When you focus on Middle Eastern food, you better have plenty of parsley.
The team at Crave Kabob, which has locations in both Skokie and West Loop, are busy every morning prepping and stacking.
"We make everything here. We make a little bit of everything. We make falafel, we make kabobs, shawarma," said Manager Husam Ahmad.
That shawarma, both chicken and beef, is hand-stacked each day. The giant cones are cooked on tall vertical spits until charred but still juicy.
Why go through the trouble of making them by hand?
"Tastes a lot better. Looks a lot better. Just awesome flavor, it's packed with flavor," said Ahmad.
Once your shawarma is in your bowl, with rice, you choose toppings like hummus or baba gannoush. If steak is in your bowl, Ahmad said you'll also get, "red onions, tomatoes, tahini sauce and a little bit of chopped salad."
"The chicken will come with pickle and garlic and tomato, followed with a little bit of chopped salad as well," he added.
Finished with a drizzle of tahini, and if you like, a dribbling stream of hot sauce. But try them in a sandwich too. Rolled up in a thin lavash, they're griddled on both sides, giving the sandwich a dual personality of chewy and crunchy.
Kebabs are juicy as well; it helps that they're marinated overnight.
"Chicken kabob is chicken breast and steak kabob is filet," Ahmad said.
Chickpea falafel is made throughout the day. Hints of cumin and garlic are prevalent. They're properly crispy on the outside but maintain a softer interior, which is not easy to do.
"Make sure that it's nice and moist is the key factor here. Enough parsley - keep it nice and green - but not too much," said Ahmad.
Not that many fast-casual Mediterranean concepts go to the trouble of hand-stacking their shawarma cones every day or marinating their kabobs overnight, so don't be surprised if you see more Crave Kabobs coming online in the region this year.
Another Middle Eastern fast-casual restaurant he's still a big fan of is Falafel & Grill, which also has two locations in the city. The Hound said his number one choice for Middle Eastern food, however, is Al Bawadi Grill, with locations in Bridgeview and Niles.
1521 W. Madison St.
7240 Niles Center Road, Skokie
Falafel & Grill
1317 N. Milwaukee Ave.
1433 W. Montrose Ave.
Al Bawadi Grill
7216 W. 87th St., Bridgeview
8501 W. Dempster Ave.