Most Middle Eastern restaurants deny their true origins, for the sake of appealing to the masses. Some have touches of Jordan; others, a taste of Syria, Israel or even Lebanon. But few menus in the region have a strong Palestinian influence, and it's those little details that make all the difference.
At Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview, the menu leans heavily on Middle Eastern recipes but they all have a unique Palestinian hook.
"It's a Palestinian food with a kick. You know, it's not your typical momma's dish but it's got something added to it. But it's as wholesome as you can get," said Kalid Baste, the owner of Al Bawadi Grill.
That "kick" comes in subtle forms: On a sampler platter of falafel, baba gannoush and hummus, that hummus is topped with not only extra chickpeas, but also a bit of chopped jalapeno; same goes for the wonderfully addictive arayes: pitas are stuffed with Syrian cheese and dried mint, then brushed with a mildy spicy hot sauce, before being baked in the oven until the cheese is rendered completely gooey.
"That's part of those things that we consider the kick. You know it serves two purposes, the kick as well as the bread itself," Baste said.
Even relatively simple starters like a potato-and-garlic dip called muthawama are amped up with the aid of parsley, mint and sumac.
But grilling seems to be Al Bawadi's strongsuit, and you'd be foolish to pass up the kebabs, all of which come with fantastic saffron-scented basmati rice. The cooks have assembled a narrow grill in the back, using only hardwood charcoal, which imparts a one-of-a-kind flavor.
"Every griller or barbequer will tell you there's a big difference between gas and charcoal," Baste said.
Whether it's in the form of lamb, chicken or beef, everything here is marinated and cooked until slightly blistered at the edges, resulting in juicy interiors and crispy exteriors. Baste says it's home-cooking that's gained a supremely loyal following on the Southwest Side.
"It's all bigger chunks, bigger everything, hands dirty, use your finger kind of thing," Baste said.
Al Bawadi Grill also offers platters that feed five people, and all of their desserts are homemade.
Al Bawadi Grill 7216 W 87th St