Snag traditional Palestinian dishes at Yaba's Middle Eastern Grill in Logan Square's Plaza Food mart

Friday, January 24, 2020
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Yaba's Middle Eastern Grill tucked in the Plaza Food mart in Logan Square offers homemade dishes rooted firmly in the Palestinian tradition.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sometimes, you can find a great place to eat in the most unlikely of spaces. Our Hungry Hound tends to look very closely in the back of grocery stores and bodegas, and he's found an excellent source for falafel.

To find it, you have to look deep inside a tiny Logan Square grocery store, where a Palestinian family is making some noteworthy falafel and lentil soup.

Yaba Massoud came to Chicago in 1978. His family has grown quite a bit - eight kids help him and his wife out - all inside a small neighborhood grocery store that's recently undergone a renovation in the back.

It's not fancy, there's hardly any seating, and it's mostly to-go, but if you stick to a few items on the menu, you'll be rewarded with some truly homemade dishes rooted firmly in the Palestinian tradition.

The same family has run the Plaza Food mart in Logan Square for many years but recently they decided to add a licensed kitchen in back, giving them the chance to make falafel, lentil soup and Middle Eastern-inspired sandwiches.

EXTRA COURSE: Lentil soup at Yaba's Middle Eastern Grill in Logan Square

The official name is Yaba's Middle Eastern Grill, and it's still very much a family affair. His older sons help with cooking, and the man himself will serve you some free lentil soup if you have to wait very long for your food.

One thing you should definitely not miss, is the falafel.

"The chickpeas are dried, and to make it softer and easier to grind, so we have to soak it," said Yaba Massoud, the patriarch of the family.

After they're soaked overnight, they are rinsed well, drained, and then transferred to the mouth of a large grinder, along with green peppers, mounds of fresh cilantro and parsley, plus fresh garlic and white onions. The machine makes quick work of it, transforming those ingredients into a thick falafel batter. That batter is rapidly formed around a falafel spoon, into a ball, which is then immediately dropped into very clean vegetable oil.

"We clean our oil every other day," Massoud said.

Frying at just the right temperature for the appropriate amount of time results in falafel that is simultaneously crispy on the outside, but warm and soft within. It bursts with freshness with no one ingredient dominating.

"It's the temperature - we use a certain temperature for it - plus the ingredients and the oil plays a major role," he said.

They can be used to make excellent sandwiches too, smashed down, then combined with tomatoes, onions, pickles and tahini, then griddled on a flattop to crisp up the outside and keep things inside from drying out.

"Just to keep it warm and crispy," said Massoud.

Yaba's Food & Middle Eastern Grill

3011 W. Armitage Ave.