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Haji-Baba vs. Cafe Istanbul: Chicken Shawarma Showdown


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Shawarma is a popular Middle Eastern meat preparation in which chicken, beef, veal, or lamb is slow-roasted on a rotisserie. Shawarma is commonly served as a sandwich or pita bread with vegetables and dressing, but it also can be served on a plate with garlic sauce, hummus and rice.

We visited two Tempe establishments known for their delicious chicken shawarma -- Café Istanbul and Haji Baba. Read more to find out which shawarma is supreme.

See Also: Forefathers vs. Philly's Famous: Philly Cheesesteak Challenge

In This Corner: Haji-Baba

The Setup: Haji-Baba is located in a small strip mall on Apache Boulevard. The establishment is split in two -- a market with specialty food items from the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Europe and the restaurant, which offers several Middle Eastern and Greek dishes such as gyros, kabobs, kafta, falafel, and shawarma.

The Good: The chicken shawarma plate ($7.99) was prepared fairly quickly and came with tabouli, rice, hummus, and pita bread. The portions were generous and enough for two meals. Our server was friendly and cracked a few jokes with us, which made the dining experience fun.

The Bad: The chicken was dry and the spicing was bitter.

In The Other Corner: Café Istanbul

The Setup: Located on the northeast corner of Apache Boulevard and Dorsey, Café Istanbul is a family-owned restaurant specializing in authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. In addition to the main dining area, the establishment houses a market and a hookah lounge, which recently was remodeled.

The Good: The chicken shawarma dinner plate ($10.95) came with a salad, rice, hummus, and pita bread. The broiled chicken was tender and topped with garlic sauce, which wasn't overpowering.

The Bad: We didn't have any complaints about the food; however, it took the server a while to deliver our check. We ended up having to go to the counter to pay.

And The Winner Is...Café Istanbul. The chicken was marinated to perfection, the flavors of the hummus, vegetables, and rice complemented each other to make the perfect plate.

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