Where to feast on Middle East in our corner of the Mitten
Published: June 6, 2012
Jennifer's Café 4052 Haggerty Rd., Walled Lake; 248-360-0190; jenniferscafe.net; $: Every neighborhood should have a Jennifer's Café: good food and reasonable prices on anything from a salad or a sandwich to an elaborate dinner. Twenty varieties of sandwiches are offered, most wrapped in a thin pita. Chicken, veal and fish predominate on the menu (although the beef tenderloin tips are outstanding), and dinner comes with soup or salad. There are also several Middle Eastern selections and a reasonably priced dessert menu.
La Marsa 43259 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-858-5800; 35558 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills; 248-615-1900; 24273 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-473-9900; 3720 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-524-0300; 4240 Pontiac Lake Rd., Waterford; 248-674-3100; 543 W. Grand River Ave., Brighton; 810-227-0600; 301 S. State St., Ann Arbor;734-622-0200; lamarsacuisine.com; $$: This mini-chain is a Middle Eastern powerhouse, serving all the classic apps, salads, and entrées you'd expect, with large portions. Despite its appeal to Americans, the menu still offers lamb: lamb shawarma, david basha, lamb ghallaba and even good ol' lamb chops. Their combo and party tray options might have you thinking twice about cooking or catering: Their feast packages sound like they could feed a football team. (Though calling their biggest package the "flaming feast" might raise some eyebrows.) As part of the grand opening festivities at their newest location on Middlebelt in east Farmington Hills, you can receive 15 percent off the total bill if you mention the web coupon available on their website.
LaPita 22681 Newman St., Dearborn; 313-563-7482; lapitadearborn.com; $: LaPita Restaurant's approach to the business is diversified: gourmet menus for fine dining, an upbeat atmosphere for business lunchers, and an opulent banquet hall for special occasions. Open 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
La Saj Lebanese Bistro 13776 Southcove Dr., Sterling Heights; 586-566-6600; lasaj.com; $$: Honored by our critics as sporting the Best Local Innovation in Middle Eastern Cuisine, La Saj takes its name from the metal dome that is heated from underneath, upon which dishes are prepared without an open flame. Rare in these parts, this ancient Middle Eastern technique results in especially moist versions of the classic Middle Eastern kitchen. Somewhat more upscale than many of its competitors in terms of decorations, linens and tableware, the restaurant on the outer edge of Lakeside Mall does a bang-up job with its appetizer or mezze sampler, served in separate small plates rather than a large unwieldy platter. The garlic sauce (toum) that comes with the warm pita is also special.
La Shish 22039 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-8400; $$: The name, the look and the menu under new ownership are exactly the same as the fabled restaurant of yesteryear. Portion control is still nonexistent. We don't know whether new co-owner Marwan Haidar has retained the same cooks that made the original La Shish the gold standard, but they're certainly using the same recipes. The chain that closed in disgrace in 2008 is now down to the Michigan Avenue flagship, but it's packing in customers just as before — for the warm puffed pita with creamy garlic sauce, the crushed lentil soup and tomato-based chicken noodle, mjadra generous with caramelized onions and yogurt, and lots of lamb (sadly not a given in every Middle Eastern restaurant anymore).
Lebanese Grill 1600 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-526-1444; lebanesegrill.com; $$: This informal, bare-tabled restaurant can seat as many as 200. The menu is encyclopedic, beginning with 40 appetizers (mezza) and salads that average around $8 or $9 for substantial shareable portions. A combination mezza platter for two, which goes for $32.95, will satisfy four people yearning for hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, labneeh, grape leaves, falafel, fried kibbeh and vegetables. Deciding on soup or salad is an easy choice compared to determining what to order from among 50 dinner entrées. One way to handle that problem is to go for a combo, again recognizing that what is advertised as serving two can please four. That is the case with the house combo of shish kebab, shish tawook, shish kafta, and meat and chicken shawarma nestled in an enormous portion of rice ($29.95) or the even more elaborate Lebanese sampler featuring hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, shish kafta, tawook, grape leaves, falafel and chicken and meat shawarma ($38.95). As is the case in most Middle Eastern restaurants, at least half of the dishes on the menu are vegetarian-friendly. The desserts, rice pudding, cream caramel, and baklava can be washed down with a pot of robust Arabic coffee.
Mr. Kabob 3372 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley; 248-545-4000; mrkabob.com; $: There was a time not too long ago when you stopped at a service station for gas and maybe a soft drink or a candy bar. Although most now have morphed into convenience stores offering sandwiches, hot dogs, donuts and slurpies, few if any flaunt the restaurant-quality cuisine turned out at Mr. Kabob, located inside a Sunoco station at the corner of 12 Mile and Coolidge. Considering the fresh ingredients and generous portions, Mr. Kabob ranks high on any cost-benefit ratio. The gourmet pita wraps average around $5 each. Indeed, prices are so moderate that one might consider a small side order of vermicelli rice ($3.99) or grilled vegetables ($3.99).
New Sahara 29222 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-851-1122; 24770 Coolidge Hwy., Oak Park; 248-399-7744; 3625 E. 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-264-0400; newsahara.com; $$: How is a Chaldean restaurant different from the more familiar Lebanese? Many dishes are the same, but owners Saad and Zeana Attisha add, for example, pickled cabbage, purshee, that's served to everyone as a starter, plus some tomato-based stews. And their daily specials (at the Oak Park and Sterling Heights locations) are Iraqi favorites including burgul (bulgur wheat), biryani (like Indian biryani but less spicy, with rice, chicken, beef and potatoes) and pacha. New Sahara does better on the traditional side dishes than on the meat and poultry entrées. Grape leaves, fattoush, kibbeh and tabbouleh are available — as well as cheese sticks, fried mushrooms and wings.
> Email Metro Times food staff