Sometimes the best things in life are right under our snouts. To wit, House of Kabob & Pita. Although it’s located just a few doors down from the sparkling new City Weekly offices, House of Kabob & Pita hadn’t registered on my culinary radar screen until it was brought to my attention by crack City Weekly copy editor Jerre Wroble. She suggested I check out the new kabobarama down the block, and I’m sure glad she did. House of Kabob & Pita is one of my most satisfying food finds of the year.
You know what kabobs are, right? It’s one of the most basic and ancient food forms, boiling down basically to meat (or poultry or fish) cooked on a skewer over fire. Technically, shish kebob derives from the Turkish word “siskebabi,” meaning spit (sis) and roast meat (kebap). Going back to the Aramaic, kebap probably comes from kabbeb, meaning to char, roast or burn. Nowadays, shish kebab or shish kebob will suffice.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like shish kebob. There’s just something about the taste of charred meat on a stick. Kids love it too. And even vegetarians can get their kicks by skewering peppers, onions and zucchini and burning the hell out of them. Maybe it has to do with our fondness for flame.
At any rate, if you like shish kebob you’re going to really like House of Kabob & Pita. As you might have already surmised, the specialty of the house is, well, kabobs and pita. And while that’s true, there’s a lot more to House of Kabob & Pita than just kabobs and pita.
But let’s start with the kabobs. House of Kabob & Pita is sort of a shish kabob United Nations. There are Persian kabobs, Turkish kabobs, even Greek kabobs (which is essentially what souvlaki is). The differences are slight: Turkish kabobs tend to be served with a combination of yogurt and tomato sauce, while the Persian kabobs are sauce-free. Since I like my meat mostly unadulterated (although I confess an inexplicable affinity for A1 sauce), I tend to like the Persian kabob selections at House of Kabob & Pita the best.
Most of the meals at House of Kabob & Pita range from $6.99 to $8.99 and include one or two kabob skewers, basmati rice (plain, green or lemon), pita bread, and a choice of salad, soup or fries. There are variations, but that’s the basic program. Quantities are massive. I’ve never come close to finishing a meal at House of Kabob & Pita and have always taken lots of food home in a Styrofoam container. Which means, in a nutshell, that prices at House of Kabob & Pita are about as consumer-friendly as any restaurant I’ve encountered. It’s a great bang for the buck.
I simply don’t know how they do it—serve kabobs that are so ridiculously tender, that is. According to owner Mohsen Asgari, the meats at House of Kabob & Pita are marinated for at least twelve hours prior to cooking. Still, I’ve marinated meats at home for days and have never wound up with anything as tender as Asgari’s magic meat. For example, the Persian kabob barg is a skewer of beef tenderloin, grilled and served with roasted tomatoes and onions. I try to avoid phrases like “melts in your mouth,” but the kabob barg ... melts in your mouth. The meat is so flavorful and tender that it doesn’t need seasoning, although each table has a shaker of Persian seasoning—a mixture of allspice, cinnamon, and something else I can’t quite put my finger on, perhaps nutmeg. Somehow, at House of Kabob & Pita they manage to cook chicken breast kabobs as tender, flavorful and juicy as the beef kabobs. If you’ve ever fired up the grill at home and cooked chicken kabobs, you know that’s not an easy feat. Burnt, dry, and bitter is how they usually end up at my place. A good choice for sampling both the Persian chicken and beef tenderloin kabobs is the kabob bakhtiari, which is one large skewer containing two pieces of beef tenderloin and two pieces of chicken breast for $12.99. I highly advise finding someone to share this dish with; it’ll feed a crowd.
I mentioned that House of Kabob & Pita isn’t just about kabobs. There are also Greek menu items like chicken, lamb and pork souvlaki, and a Greek gyro plate. But my favorite dishes are the Persian “Gourmet” menu items like khoreshteh gheymeh, which is stewed chunks of beef and yellow split peas served over a heaping portion of basmati rice and garnished with minced parsley. There’s a hint of allspice in the stew and it comes with a house salad at the ridiculously fair price of $7.99. House of Kabob & Pita also wins the award for cheapest lamb shank: $8.99. They offer a New Zealand lamb shank, roasted and served with lima beans seasoned with dill and, as always, basmati rice and house salad. It’s tender and terrific.
What more could I ask for? Well, a booze license would be nice. But hey, with food this good at prices this low, who’s complaining?
HOUSE OF KABOB & PITA, 268 S. Main, 521-4442, Open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m, Monday-Thursday, Open ’til 3 a.m., Friday & Saturday<