El Shater, a Lebanese deli and hound haunt in Sunnyside, Queens, baked its last spinach-and-cheese pie in spring, and fans were bereft. Up With Olives' reaction was typical: "Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!" But there's a happy ending for Sunnysiders. Members of the family behind El Shater have since opened not one but two dueling Lebanese delis right in the neighborhood, and so far both sound great.
First out of the gate was Habibi, which arrived in July in the old El Shater space, but not before a makeover. pgunn finds the new shop "very bright, clean, and airy (not words I would have used to describe El Shater)." A few weeks later and a block south came Souk El-Shater. A runaway hit at both places is the shawarma sandwich with beef or chicken, a steal at $3.50. Huck says Souk El-Shater's beef version gets uncommon flavor, depth, and texture from tahini and crisp pickled vegetables. 2slices loves Habibi's chicken shawarma—"truly fantastic," he says—and suggests that any of the sandwiches can be improved by fresh tabbouleh. Some have complained of tough or gristly beef at both delis, but most are grateful for these surprisingly well-stuffed bargain bites.
Beyond shawarma, there's a lot of overlap in the two menus and a lot to recommend. Hounds especially like Habibi's falafel, with a hint of clove that adds an unusual dimension, and kibbeh (meat-stuffed bulgur croquettes). Hummus, baba ghanoush, and stuffed grape leaves are among the standouts at Souk El-Shater. Both kitchens make fine versions of those savory pies stuffed with spinach, cheese, chicken, or other ingredients. And both lay out daily steam-table specials that are worth a sniff. 2slices says Habibi's spread recently included a nice, light stew of tender beef ("not that chewy stew meat") with peas and carrots in tomato broth. At Souk El-Shater, MarcInSunnysideGardens counts on the buffet for "something braised and melting and perfect."
So which place is better? Each has its partisans, but most locals are just delighted to have two hound-worthy Lebanese options where once there was just one. As pgunn puts it, "this whole splitting off of El Shater is great from my perspective. Both have great food."
43-02 43rd Avenue (at 43rd Street), Sunnyside, Queens
Souk El-Shater [Sunnyside]
43-03 Queens Boulevard (at 43rd Street), Sunnyside, Queens