Best Shawarma Beirut is part of the ANA, Take Me ‘Round the World Trip Report.
I’m sure you don’t know that TPOL is going to be a world-famous Arabic folk singer. With Ilham al-Madfai, The Baghdad Beatle, getting up in years, there will be no competition. Enter Iskender, the new voice of Arab folk. My first single will be hummus because I love hummus and already have the words to the refrain written:
أنا أحب الحمص H u m m u s
While hummus is one of my favorite appetizers, other mezze that may top the charts include dolma, fattoush, and tabbouleh. While appetizers are great, I didn’t come all the way to Beirut for something that mom, grandma, and Ms. TPOL make better at home. Much like when I went to Athens in search of the best gyros (see Illiad & Odyssey: Quest for Best Athenian Gyros), I came to Beirut for the best shawarma. Could Beirut crack the The Best Kebap in the World list?
I will premise my reviews by saying that I violated my rules of pho by visiting fancy Lebanese restaurants (see I Know When That Hot Bowl Blings…A Review of Pho in Brooklyn). It is inexcusable, nonsensical, and terrible that I would seek out upscale restaurants for what should be consumed on the street and what should cost next to nothing. I don’t know if it was because I was tired or unfocused (see Travel Anxiety Sucks: Can It Be Prevented?), but I didn’t question the hotel recommendations for food like I should have (see Food in Milan: Tourist Places But Good Nonetheless) and went blindly to wherever they suggested (see The Prison of Posh). With that off my chest, I can say that all the places were quality, and I do not regret going to any of them. But which one was the best?
The Em Sherif Family
There’s Em Sherif restaurant, Em Sherif Cafe, and Em Sherif SEA. I started my journey for the best shawarma Beirut at Em Sherif Cafe.
In Beirut, even if a restaurant is empty, the first question will be, “Do you have a reservation?” If you do not, the look of sadness on the maître d’s face is enough to break your heart. If you do, chances are they won’t find it. I didn’t have one at Cafe so they put me and the rest of the no reservation rejects in another room. That didn’t kill my experience as I came for the food, not the ambiance. I ordered tabbouleh, hummus, and shawarma sandwich. The mezze received high marks as did the fresh bread. The shawarma was very good. $32 dollars later, I was full but confused why I paid so much.
Verdict: Em Sherif
TPOL’s TIP: Make sure you ask for bread to go. Otherwise, you’ll be eating your hummus in your hotel with your hands.
Em Sherif SEA
SEA as the name suggests offers Lebanese seafood dishes. Again, I went with the hummus to start but added Ross Assfour which is completely different in Iraqi cuisine versus Lebanese. Ours is a red stew with meatballs and potatoes. Theirs was olive oil and small pieces of fish. For the main event, I went with the fish shawarma. It’s the first time I had fish shawarma and I would order it again. Again the bill was $34. With that amount of money, she could cook 50 portions of shawarma.
TPOL’s TIP: Make sure you check that you received the takeaway bread. Otherwise, you’ll be eating hummus in your hotel with your hands.
I went to another fancy Lebanese restaurant and was more aggressive in my ordering. I had cold grape leaves, tabbouleh, and hummus shawarma. The remix to Iskender’s hummus song will definitely be this dish. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a shawarma sandwich on the menu, but I was skilled enough to make my own.
Instead of sticking to the close options, the hotel recommended Babel which was twenty minutes away. Since I was making the trip far and wide to get there, I strayed from my shawarma adventure and ordered other dishes including the famous Lebanese raw meat, kibbeh. I rather enjoyed it.
The kebab and shish taouk were nothing special. The labneh (yogurt) with garlic was nice, but the hummus was only average.
The place receives high marks for ambiance as it is in a castle but low marks for food and even lower marks for price. Who spends $70 on what is usually Arabic street food (raw meat excluded). Based on the kebab and taouk, I don’t think I missed out on the shawarma.
So who wins? No one! I certainly didn’t and even as I write this, I still am annoyed at myself for not wandering down an alley and find the shawarma man, order 3 sandwiches for takeaway, and pig out in my room Taco Bell shawarma style. All the places were nice and the presentation was grand, but I’m sure grandma would laugh at me for being so loose with my money.
If you are hungry after the Best Shawarma Beirut post, keep reading the ANA, Take Me ‘Round the World Trip Report.