Middle Eastern Restaurants in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Guide
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Cuisines are often defined by lines on a map, but from a cultural standpoint, the Middle East is more of a concept than it is any one place. And its culinary influence knows no bounds, weaving through Israel, Iran and Turkey all the way to the kitchens of North Africa, Central Asia and so much of Europe. Of course, it’s stretched to here, as well. From the tried-and-true to newcomers shaking things up, these are the restaurants, cafes and bakeries defining this new dining era.
Hadramout, University City
Sure, there are other great things on the menu at this Yemeni restaurant (the fish mofa, absolutely), but come to Hadramout for lamb — lamb haneeth on the bone, lamb soup, lamb fahsah in a clay bowl, with homemade bread still warm from the tandoor. 136 South 45th Street.
Sansom Kabob House, Bella Vista
The menu is a treasure trove of authentic Afghan food. Fried sambosas filled with chickpeas and potatoes are maybe the perfect appetizer. The chalaw kadu is sautéed pumpkin topped with yogurt and served over rice. There’s cauliflower stew, Afghani meatballs, steamed scallion dumplings topped with meat sauce — and, yeah, plenty of kebabs, too. 1300 South Street.
Old Thyme, Old City
Old Thyme feels, somehow, like the ideal casual, neighborhood restaurant — the kind of place you dream about finding by accident one day, then become a regular at for years. With its warm colors, wood floors, little bakery case and drooping plants, it is friendly and welcoming, and the food coming out of the kitchen is so much better than what you’d expect — a simple menu of falafel, fool, grape leaves and gyro bulked up with waffles, omelets, manakeesh and fresh-made crepes. 229 Market Street.
Café La Maude, Northern Liberties
From the weird juxtaposition of croquet madame and foul moudamas, poulet roti and fattoush salad, there’s so much to love about this French/Middle Eastern all-day brunch café. There are cute pastries, macarons, coffee and a distinctly Parisian vibe, and the only real problem with the place is that it closes every day by 4 p.m. 816 North 4th Street.
Al Zaytouna, Bella Vista
Al Zaytouna is a BYO. And that’s handy, because while you could bring along a bottle of your favorite dinner wine, there’s not much that goes better with grape leaves, chicken schwarma smoky from the grill, sour yogurt and big plates of grilled lamb and couscous than a couple sharp and hoppy local IPAs or a six pack of Yuengling. 906 Christian Street.
Manakeesh, West Philly
Don’t miss out on the Lebanese specialties — the balilah, or the fatteh with hot chickpeas and nuts, sour yogurt and fried pita. Don’t miss the namesake manakeesh (flatbreads topped with everything from mozzarella and red sauce to za’atar labneh or hot cheese and roasted red peppers). Don’t miss the bakery cases, filled with shamiyyat date cookies, amazing baklava, walnut semolina cookies dusted with powdered sugar and shortbread stuffed with jam. Really, just don’t miss anything here — a French-Lebanese café that does almost everything remarkable well. 4420 Walnut Street.
Zahav, Society Hill
Zahav is the restaurant that defines Israeli cooking for this city — that does it for the entire country, really, which makes Philly a kind of ground zero for modern Israeli cuisine. It’s Michael Solomonov’s signature restaurant, bringing mezze like fried cauliflower with mint and lemon and raw lamb kibbeh to the forefront and making pomegranate lamb shanks and chicken kebabs with persimmon and mango preserves into our special-occasion foods. 237 St. James Place.
Safa Persian Teahouse, Manayunk
Inspired by the teahouse culture of Iran, Safa is a bright, welcoming spot for friends and neighbors to gather for siphon-brewed tea (more than two dozen varieties), specialty drinks like saffron milkshakes and cherry sharbat, and Persian snacks made by owner Amin Shirazi’s mom. The menu is short but perfect, offering small plates of pastries, hummus, dolmeh, wrap sandwiches and dips to go along with the pots of tea steeping on every table. 4165 Main Street.
Bishos Café and Bakery, Northeast Philly
A Palestinian cafe in a strip mall deep in the Northeast is one of the best places you can go for a Middle Eastern breakfast of omelets speckled green with parsley and fresh-squeezed orange juice from a big, clanking machine. There are schwarma wraps at lunch, a bakery case full of baklava, and a dinner menu that’s heavy on kebabs served over rice with onions and peppers, man’oushe flatbreads, and pots of Turkish coffee. 2329 Cottman Avenue, at the Roosevelt Mall.
Tucked away in the corner of the Ardmore Farmers Market, Tabouli does lunch bowls and pitas, hummus, quick prepared foods, and, for dinner, schwarma and salads, spinach and feta pie, manakeesh flatbreads and special whole dinners, like stuffed peppers or Moroccan chicken with rice, noodles and a salad. 120 Coulter Avenue, at the Ardmore Farmers Market.
Alyan’s, Queen Village
This institution just off South Street has been open since 1982, and they’re still one of the best spots in the city for classics like falafel, chicken schwarma, or their own burger — served in pita, of course. 603 South 4th Street.
This enormous Lebanese market, bakery, cafe and restaurant opened in stages but didn’t show its true power to reshape Philly’s dining scene until it launched a dinner service full of some of the best Levantine eats you’ll find anywhere. From the simplest things (baba ghanoush and fresh, warm pita) to whole grilled chicken marinated in sumac and lamb sausages rich with coriander, cinnamon and clove, with a full cocktail list and a beautiful dining room full of warmth and people, this place gives new meaning to Middle Eastern in Philly. 1528 Frankford Avenue.
Bitar’s, East Passyunk
For more than four decades, this place has been slinging schwarma and falafel for its neighbors in South Philly. And after a recent refresh of the dining room and kitchen, it’s more focused than ever, making everything from pastries to flatbreads masquerading as pizza (called “Bitzza”) to french-fry platters that are like Middle Eastern poutine. 947 Federal Street.
Apricot Stone, Northern Liberties
Chef Fimy Ishkhanian mixes a lot of traditions on her menu here. There’s hummus and spanakopita, kibbeh and lahmajoun. There are kebabs and falafel and cheese baklava, and all of it comes from her experience growing up Armenian in Aleppo, her time in Toronto, and the years she spent on the Main Line, teaching suburban Philadelphians everything she knew about hummus long before Dizengoff made it a staple. 1040 North American Street.
Paprica Grill, Washington Square West
In the window, steak doner spins on a vertical spit, glistening from a melting crown of beef fat and roasted tomatoes. They’re very proud of their doner at Paprica Grill, as they are their homemade bread and blistery pide (Turkish pizzas) and baklava. 811 Sansom Street.
Stoa Takeaway, South Philly
Chef Samar Lazzari pops up every Monday at 11:30 in the Bok Building with a spread of Middle Eastern goodies inspired by the summers she spent in Jordan growing up. Every week is different, with menus built around what’s in season at the city’s farmers’ markets. 821 Dudley Street.
Judah Grill, Northeast Philly
Israeli cuisine for the Northeast. Judah is a closely packed space with a small bakery case and a broad menu that has lamb burgers, fish and chips, chicken wings, baklava, apple cake, and a whole spread of schwarma, kebabs, grape leaves, foul and other classic Middle Eastern dishes. 9311 Krewstown Road.
Irwin’s, East Passyunk
A beautiful rustic-industrial space with historic graffiti on the walls, plus a gorgeous rooftop area with legendary views of deep South Philly. The cocktails are old-school, and the menu is not. Irwin’s kitchen does a very modern take on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, offering small plates and bar snacks like fried carrot fritters with feta and manti dumplings, with chili oil to dip them in and garlic yogurt to cool them out. 800 Mifflin Street, in the Bok Building.
Kanella Grill, Washington Square West
At dinner, plates of olives, stuffed grape leaves, and kebabs of Cypriot pork and lamb sausage. At brunch, a Syrian breakfast with eggs fried in olive oil, sourdough bread and sour yogurt sauce. Kanella Grill is a pure expression of the simple, delicious flavors of Mediterranean cuisine where it begins to shade over into Middle Eastern. 1001 Spruce Street.
Aya’s Café, Logan Square
A small, neighborhood Mediterranean café with a mixed menu of American and Middle Eastern dishes. You can safely skip the cheeseburgers and crab cakes, and stick to the kofta, gyro, stuffed grape leaves and falafel—called temaya here, and made from fava beans instead of chickpea. 2129 Arch Street
Makkah Market, West Philly
You know that old truism about cabbies always knowing where the best food is? Yeah, well Makkah Market is the place that proves it true — a favorite stop UCity drivers (and students) looking for fish rice, schwarma, vegetarian wrap sandwiches or kebabs. Bonus: Makkah Market is also a grocery, and the whole place is open 24/7. 4249 Walnut Street
Desert Rose, Media
Moroccan, Israeli and Iraqi cuisine at a BYO on the Main Line? Absolutely. The kitchen makes its own hummus and pita, and you’ll want to check out the versions served with ground lamb or poached eggs. Beyond that, check out the potato bourekas and their signature chicken schwarma with Israeli hot sauce (harif) and amba, a sour pickled mango condiment. 305 West State Street
Mashwa Grill, South Street
The menu here is a perfect mix of Middle Eastern snacks, street food and full meals, offering everything from batatas harra with coriander and chile to marinated and spice-rubbed chicken dajej, thoum, harissa arbi and pita sandwiches stuffed with all the good things in the world. 413 South Street
Isot, Bella Vista
It’s rare enough to find a restaurant in Philly that specializes in Turkish food — and rarer still to find one that does breakfast. But Isot has both, offering a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, lunch on the weekdays, and dinners full of hummus and kebabs, manti dumplings with mint and red pepper oil, massive mix plates of lamb chops, kebabs and kofta, and then kanafeh for dessert. 622 South 6th Street.
Marrakesh, Queen Village
For more than 30 years, this place has been bringing the flavors of Morocco to Philly. You walk down an alley and ring the doorbell, and it’s like stepping into another world, with dim lights, the smell of incense, rosewater, and a tasting menu that might showcase chicken with lemon and olives, lamb tajine with almonds, eggplant cooked in tomato sauce, or chicken b’stella dusted with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon. 517 South Leithgow Street.
Middle Eastern restaurants, mapped
Published as “Philly’s 15 Essential Middle Eastern Restaurants” in the May 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.