Oct 17, 2019

The name says it all at Best Shawerma, Burbank, Ill.

If there’s one perk I love most about traveling for my job, it’s being able to experience cuisines that are simply hard to find in and around my home base in Central Illinois.  So, when my work took me near a fast food style restaurant reportedly serving some of the best authentic Middle Eastern cuisine on Chicago's south side, it didn’t take me long to try it.  After all, with a name like “Best Shawerma,” how could I go wrong?

The term “restaurant” should probably be used a little loosely here.  At first glance, Best Shawerma looks like little more than your typical slightly rundown fast food dives that dot the Chicago landscape.   Maybe it was a hot dog or Italian beef joint in a previous incarnation, who knows?  And frankly, if you’re not seeking it out, it’s kind of easy to miss it on the north side of 79th Street on the edge of Burbank, south of Midway Airport.  But I was looking for it, and once I found it, I excitedly pulled into the parking lot behind the restaurant.  As I walked around the building, I was instantly charmed by the smells coming from the kitchen.    

It didn’t take long for me to discover the source of those seductive smells -- the meat rotating on the skewers behind the counter, just waiting to be carved. 

I was almost immediately greeted by the chef, who I also assumed to be the owner. He asked politely if this was my first time here, which he obviously knew the answer to, but I appreciated that he was eager and proud to share his cuisine.  Without hesitation, he offered me a couple of freshly made falafel to sample.  Without hesitation, I accepted, and he flipped a few onto the grill to warm up to the perfect serving temperature.   Once I bit into one, I knew right away I was ordering some more to take with me.  They were round, fluffy yet filling, and very flavorful … definitely not plain. 

As the chef kept feeding me free falafel, I studied the menu above the register.  I was impressed to see a few Middle Eastern dishes I had not yet had the privilege of trying.  But honestly, it would be foolish to go to someplace called “Best Shawerma” and not order the shawerma on your first visit.

Still, I’m always one to mix it up, so rather than choose the obvious shawerma entrée platter, I got the chicken shawerma sandwich instead, three more falafel and a Jerusalem salad.

The chef went to work right away, first slicing the chicken off the spit then dropping it onto the grill for a little extra sizzle.  The entire process could be viewed from the counter, and I was getting hungrier with every step of preparation.    

Before long, I had a sack of food ready to take back to my hotel.  I had already surmised there would be leftovers.

I had to try the Jerusalem salad first.  This photo, believe it or not, is the small version.  It seems so simple when you read the ingredients – tomatoes and cucumbers, diced finely and blended with tahini sauce and lemon juice, but put together this was nothing short of delicious.  I had to stop eating halfway through to make sure I had room for the shawerma sandwich …

… which was enormous enough on its own.   The pita wasn’t just stuffed, it was overflowing with meat, onions (sautéed and flavored with sumac!), peppers and more tahini sauce.  If you judge a sandwich by how many times you say, “Mmmmm” to yourself while eating it, Best Shawerma’s signature dish gets five stars. 

As it turns out, I learned … at least by my taste buds … that Best Shawerma is aptly named, and they do much more than shawerma extremely well.  Plus, the prices are outrageously affordable.  I had dinner and plenty of leftovers for the next night for around $10.  You might find a finer dining establishment for Middle Eastern food, but it would be difficult to find one with better tasting and more authentic dishes in the Chicagoland area than Best Shawerma in Burbank.

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