My usual, Aladinn's Palace was closed one Monday night so I tried the Arab strip east of Victoria Park after many years absence. I returned a number of times.
There seems to be internecine warfare in the strip. Shawarma are 2 for $5.49 or $5.99 ;similarly felafel. They represent the biggest bargain in town: big, tasty, interesting and nutritious. As for Aladinn's Palace, on my next trip there I told one of the ownership family that I had to go to Lawrence Ave because they had been closed, and that I had advice for them based on my experience: raise your prices. And they did the next day. Honest.
A few general comments.
1. Two for say $5.99, but watch out how much one is. At Nasib, one is $4.99.
2. Go to a place where they make your shawarma in front of you. Then you can direct its "salad" and sauce contents. The 'salads' are really important
3. The custom has been brought here that you can load up your "sandwich " with as much salad and whatever sorts as you want. Don't be shy.
4. Many of these places are open late, Ibrahim 1.30 AM, Aladdin's Palace even later
5.If there are two people at the counter go to the younger one. He likely will have less experience, be slower and therefore easier to direct.
6. Shawarma are beef or chicken. no lamb seen, too expensive.
Farhat. As bad as you can reasonably get, which is talentless, boring, not all that big, but wholesome.
Oasis. OK but not really interesting, and small and expensive in comparison. Waitress and made out of your sight so you have a tip and limited input..
Lotus. Egyptian owner. The business is to sell prepared meat by the kilo, (prepared in a kitchen in the back) but there are a couple of tables. The felafel is Egyptian style, with fava beans not chick peas. It was a big disappointment, very clumsy. Like re-fried leftovers without being leftovers. The lamb itself was nicely done , BUT
1. The pita wasn't fresh
2. Kebob had lamb liver in it. I like lamb liver , but it was coarse compared to what I have had outside Canada. You may not like it at all.
3 Salad in both was perfunctory: scant and boring. The salad in these things is as important as the felafel or meat. Also, I like a lot of salad to balance and carry the lamb liver.
For a good Egyptian style felafel go to Prince of Egypt on Danforth just east of Broadview.
Empire Shawarma. Owners are from Jordan, which won't tell you anything. Jordan was a booby prize given by the English to the Hashemites after they lost "Saudi Arabia" to the Sauds in the 1920's. It never before had been a country and its population is culturally from all over the region. The country was created by the English artificially drawing lines on a map. I am told that the owners are Palestinian, whatever this may mean.
From the standpoint of the food , it does mean that the pita used is towel- like, but it is fresh., forming a pocket, rather than the style that everyone else uses, which is Lebanese, and is rolled up.
The meat was heavily but pleasantly spiced. The pita were small . The salads were OK and there wasn't room for much. They were the cheapest at $5.49; I gladly would have given them the 50cents extra to do something with.
A little heavy on the pita in the pita to filling ratio. do wish for a bit more salad. Good for once a month.
Nasib. Nasib is Lebanese but his cook is from Haifa. A good number of "salads" and done as they might be done in Haifa. They are tasty and good, but Haifa is a working man's town and the salads are a bit like that. Nothing wrong though when the worker is Arab. A good product. ( Because of where I came in the skewer not fair to comment about the chicken, but I did like it.). Complementary deeper fried and herbed pita bits.
Ibrahim. Ibrahim is Moroccan and from a prosperous family in the food business. (Upper class Moroccan cooking is wonderful, lower class can be oil and heat). His cook is Lebanese and good. The shawarm are Lebanese style. Ibrahim's salads and sauces are the nicest The meat is moderately flavoured. I get them to load up the pita with salads and refuse the garlic sauce, greenheat and tahina so that all the nice tastes come out. I do ask for a piece of roast potato to be put in from their "dinner special " pans.
The result is excellent ; my favourite. A very large shawarma; one is really enough unless you haven't eaten all day. Tasty, refined and interesting and "clean" in taste character. I want another one the next day.
I also like the Ibrahim beef burger. A light texture, lightly and nicely flavoured a Moroccan's idea of "Canadian". I can't figure out how he achieves the light texture. If anybody thinks they know please post. Done on a "charcoal" grill, NOT fried. I refused the offered mustard and ketchup and had a pile of salads put on top and spilling out. Delicious.
Ibrahim is on the corner of Lawrence and Wayne, across from Nasr, and behind the Ibrahim butcher. Ignore the pizza signs. He doesn't make it anymore.
Ibrahim owns the butcher, which helps in putting out a high quality product at a low price.
Now to round it out,
Aladinn's Palace , on Victoria Park and Tempo, underneath, same building as the hockey rink and Genisis Buffet.
Owners are Christian Arabs from Lod, which is on the edge of Ben-Gurion airport. They have a liquor license. This is a sit down restaurant without tableclothes.You can sit all day with a $10 hookah until your wife catches you.
I always have the combo plate (now) $6.99 veg or $7.99 chicken or meat.
First comes a small plate of pickling and pita. Then the combo plate. Hummous, tabouleh, baba ganough, chicken or beef shawarma (try a bit of each on the plate) 4 felafel balls (ASK for cooked soft) . Labeneh is the veg alternative to the meat.
You can make you own sandwich. I get a bit of lemon that I slice fine and put in.
There is also a home made red pepper sauce (great with the labneh) and garlic sauce. They peel and mince their own garlic and squeeze lemons. No Bottle. Ignore the rest of the menu; the combo plates are great and varied and make a good meal. Anise tea for $1.25 but beer goes well with this food.
PS. Try Pizza Rama on Bloor near Shaw, south side. Excellent Zataar pie and veg pizza. Will try their other stuff, which includes shawarma. If any one has tried them, please report.
Owner operators are Lebanese Druze, husband and wife.
PPS Amy Pataki of the Star once reviewed felafel places , the review is in Lotus' window. She should stick to what she might understand - goulash and schnitzel.
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