I just love Colombian food, with its mixture of plain and highly seasoned foods. I think others did too, but I have yet to see a El Llano report. Likewise, I love middle-eastern food. That same mix of simple dishes and intense additions. I love the heavy hand with so much, a high dose of garlic here, a bit more salt than necessary there. Unfortunately, I have had mixed luck finding outstanding middle-eastern food around town. My standard bearers remain places in S. Florida, Los Angeles (one meal like ten years ago), and London. Most every place in Chicago exhibit flaws. Flaws in service, accessories or just plain heat lamp sitting falafel. Also, I notice an amazing inconsistency with food in this genre. I have commented before how Grape Leaves in Oak Park must be the world's most inconsistent restaurant, teetering between sublime and dreck on a daily basis. Salaam offers some of the best all around food and extras, but more often than not, the treatment is so indifferent, so brusque, so much work on our part, that I find it hard to take. I posted last August for a new place. I got nary a response. (I was told confidentially by one chowhound that perhaps my specifications were too specific, my goals too high). I expected the answer from Chowhound.com not Chicago Magazine. (Link below)
Last month, Chicago Mag did a small yet thorough review of Steve's Shish Kebab House. With suprising accuracy, it described in a single paragraph, the "opium den" "brave your server" and savory sounding dishes that made us want to go there. I think years before Shish Kebab house got some pub from Chicago, and I think we even once went there before, although I think it might have been previously in a different location on 63rd. Except for one small (or huge in the eyes of Ms. VI) error, this came pretty close to the ideal Middle-Eastern place of my high-high specifications.
We ordered two entrees, one sandwich, one falafel plate and one appetizer fool plate for our family of four. As you will see, we got plenty of plenty food. Each dinner comes with a small but sufficient bowl of soup, a dollop of hummus, another dollop of a minty, creamy salad and more. The table gets a relish tray with bitter olives, family favorite pink turnips and a new contender in the giardinara sweepstakes, a mix of jalepenos, celery, broccoli and just enough dressing to moisten. Sharing the plates on the main courses were huge helpings of rice topped with a ratatouille type vegetable mix. I mean, is anything else required?
For those sticklers who want quality too, you will not be disappointed. First, the falafel met the most important test of falafel, fresh frying. It was marvelously seasoned as well. We blew it by not eating all these while they were hot. But there was so much other great stuff on our table. The fool featured more garlic than even Emeril would use in good conscious. You really do not care that when the dish gets put before you, it appears to be swimming in oil, yet five minutes later, all that oil has mysteriously disappeared (absorbed). Second, the meats also tasted great. We tried the kefta kabob and the shwarma. The kefta was loose and juicy. The shwarma flavored much with cinnamon and other spices. We rued the out-ness of hot sauce, the one fault of Steve's, but the meats had so much working, we made it without any additional condiment.
The menu advises in a few spots to ask for specials. We did not, going for some standards. We missed on some interesting sounding options: stuffed squash, something called upside down stew, and some lamb dishes. Believe me, if 63rd street was around the corner, I'd be there tonight to try some of the specials. Luckily, with all that food, we have tons of leftovers. Next time, I trust they will not be out of the hot sauce.
Steve's Shish Kebab House
3816 W. 63rd
Chicago, IL 60629