There's a good reason that Chicago doesn't lack great Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eats, and part of that reason is the Al-Khayameih bakery, located next door to the restaurant of the same name. Reputedly, the bakery delivers its pita goodness to a number of other restaurants in the city, and if the rest of the menu at this large, Lebanese storefront started getting out the same way, it might give Sultan's Market and Andie's reason to worry.
Start with the creamy and mild hummus graced with just the right amount of olive oil, cumin and paprika. For $2.95, the generous half order comes with a plate of olives, Lebanese pickled turnips and a plate of sliced tomato, onion and cubes of Labneh cheese. Pack an appetite for the fantastic kabobs. The soltani ($13.95) combines juicy and tender filet mignon with kafta, a tasty mix of ground beef, parsley, onions and spices, served in a huge dish atop a bed of salad and more basmati rice than you'll ever need. If you're in search for lighter fare, opt for the falafel sandwich ($3.95) or spinach pie ($1.50), which has a hint of cinnamon that serves it very well.
The adventurous and uninitiated might be tempted to try the "Lebanese Yogurt Drink," but be advised: It's yogurt cut with water and heavily salted. Luckily, the trusty baklawa tastes exactly what it sounds like, and this sweet, sticky version tops off a massive Lebanese feast quite nicely.
The restaurant's decor used to feel drab and cafeteria-like, but a series of renovations have resulted in an airy, open space. Its interesting fixtures, exposed ductwork, handsome wooden tables and bright paint job lend a comfortable and inviting feel.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Bill Burman