Whether you're looking for authentic kebabs, falafels, grape leaves, or baklava, the Valley has plenty to offer when it comes to Middle Eastern food. From Lebanon to Yemen, Iraq to Iran, these 10 Metro Phoenix Middle Eastern restaurants are dishing up the best the region has to offer.
There are many places for good falafel around metro Phoenix, and even more places for merely passable falafel. The Shawarma King rendition of falafel is exceptional, and a sort of marvel of contradictions: densely built, yet light enough to snack on by the handful. It’s crunchy on the outside, with a surprisingly springy, spongy interior. It's rich with rich with the flavors of ground, spiced garbanzo, yet also suffused with the fresh, bracing flavors of pureed herbs. When you order the falafel appetizer plate at Shawarma King in Glendale, it’s accompanied by a garlicky tahini sauce and a small bowl filled with slices of beet-red house-pickled turnips, homemade pickles, and sweet-spicy yellow peppers, all of which will brighten up your falafel with nice flashes of acidity and spice. But this particular falafel is so good, it can easily stand on its own. The specialty here, of course, is shawarma, the traditional Levantine-style meat whose irresistibly tender texture is achieved by having the meat rotate on a spit for hours. There are only two shawarma options — beef or chicken — and both are excellent
Casa de Falafel
Casa de Falafel is literally inside the Peoria Shell gas station at the corner of 67th Avenue and Cactus Road, but don't let that deter you. Ali Shakir and Madda, his wife of 25 years, opened the shop just over a year ago. Their namesake falafels are a reflection of their homeland Iraq's most popular street snack. Unlike most falafels found around Phoenix, the ones at Casa de Falafel are shaped like small, sesame-coated doughnuts, rich with the traditional Iraqi combination of fava beans and chickpeas, yet airy and light under their crisp-fried crusts. Other Middle Eastern street foods are made fresh in classic Arabian style. Chicken and beef shawarma sandwiches are wrapped in a thin bread called saj, and then grilled. Garlic sauce is luscious and tangy; green hot sauce is tart and herbaceous; and the hummus is nutty and thick as peanut butter, with loads of tahini. The sleeper hit of the menu is the thick, chunky lentil soup, which is cumin-heavy and flecked with black pepper and orange bits of carrot.
Yemeni food is Middle Eastern food like you've never had it before. This is not humus and falafel, fatoush salad or shawarma-style Near Eastern cuisine. Yemeni is hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, southern comfort, done Arabian-style. The namesake dish at Tempe's Mandi House, and a similar dish, muthbi, are traditionally cooked on hot stones that are super-heated over a bed of charcoal on the roadsides, but here, the mandi is baked and the muthbi is cooked over a hot barbecue flame. The chicken is simply seasoned, letting the smoke act as its primary flavoring agent. It is then served over an intoxicating plate of spiced rice along with a small side of cucumber yogurt, some raw onions, and a dish of tangy, spicy chile and tomato salsa. The whole grilled fish is another great option at this super-authentic haunt, as is the fassoulia, a dish of thick, meaty fava beans slow-cooked and sauteed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a bit of dried ground okra, a signature ingredient in Yemeni cooking.
This family-owned market and restaurant serves what may be the Valley's only Mediterranean breakfast menu. You can start your day at Princess Market with an affordable pita-wrapped breakfast burrito or a rich tomato-beef stew, then swing by for lunch to enjoy a full menu of kebobs, falafel, and more. One of the most popular entrees is the kebob combo, which includes a beef kabob, chicken kabob, kofta kabob, hummus, and a side. Though the meats are always incredible, the real treat is the hummus, which is light and fresh.
Tucked inside Central Phoenix's Baiz Market, Al-Hana Restaurant isn't the fanciest spot on our list. This counter service restaurant is a go-to spot for downtown lunchers and our favorite place for a falafel and shawarma sandwiches. The restaurant wraps hot, fried falafel or strips of crisp chicken shawarma in freshly-made pita along with lettuce parsley, tomatoes, pickled turnips, and tahini. Other popular options include the bright tabbouleh salad and the restaurant's selection of savory pies.
For more than a decade, Eden's Grill owners Marcus and Shalem Narsa have been putting out heavenly Middle Eastern cuisine at this north Phoenix restaurant. The menu's chock full of worthwhile entrees, including the house-made gyro (made from a mixture of pressed beef and lamb that's broiled then sliced thin) and the kebabs (in particular the chicken and ground beef varieties). But don't worry, vegetarians have plenty of options, too such as the restaurant's freshly made falafel and dolmeh, rolled grapes leaves stuffed with dill, olive oil, and rice.
AZ Kebab House
AZ Kabob House is the most casual of the many Persian sit-down restaurants in Phoenix, offering counter service in a bright airy space in a North Scottsdale strip mall. The interior is cheerful, but not lavish, and the menu includes Mediterranean dishes, like Greek salads and hummus. But their Persian specialties, like tender, ground beef kubideh kabobs served over saffron rice, homemade doogh, a salted mint and yogurt drink, and gormeh sabzi, a lamb and herb stew, are some of the best versions of these classic Iranian dishes anywhere in town. They are the only place in town where you can taste the northern Iranian dish, dizzi, a luscious mashed meat and potato stew served with a rich bone broth and warm, fresh-baked bread. Affordable prices and consistently good, solid Iranian fare make it the best place in Phoenix to get your Persian fix.
At Tempe's Hummus Xpress, chef Ahmad (Eddie) Hantas, who came to the Valley by way of Lebanon, creates a rotating menu of salads, hummus, sauces, vegetables, and meats that diners can use to create their own pitas, bowls, or plates. Think, Mediterranean food done Chipotle-style. A filling meal at the fast-casual restaurant will usually cost you less than $15 — which is a great deal for an excellent falafel or lemon-garlic chicken bowls topped with freshly roasted vegetables, hummus, and a Yemeni hot sauce called shug.
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Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli
Looking for excellent baklava in at least three different varieties? Well, you can find it at Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli, a central Phoenix restaurant and market that serves Lebanese and offers a few rows of Middle Eastern groceries. The restaurant boasts some of the city's most famous lemonade (it's made with lemon juice, water, honey, and rosewater) and a well-loved "Lebanese Chicken" entree, which features a grilled chicken breast marinated in a garlic and lemon herb dressing with a side of rice, tzatziki, and salad.
Located not far from Arizona State University's Tempe campus, Haji-Baba has long been a popular dining spot for hungry students on a budget. The market and restaurant serves excellent hummus and baba ghanouj, as well as falafel, foul mudammas, and gyro sandwiches. For under $10, Haji-Baba's lunch deals are a steal.