5 Middle Eastern restaurants to remember and revisit in the Twin Cities

Things go way beyond the gyro at Holy Land.

Things go way beyond the gyro at Holy Land. Photo courtesy of Holy Land Facebook Page

Because diversity is delicious.

Mim’s Cafe
Tucked away in an adjacent coffee shop on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, Mim’s gives away its best-kept secret by the heavy fragrance of cumin and turmeric. Tenderest-ever kofta kebabs seem held together with little more than air; hummus seems whipped with cream it's so light, standing up in little rivulets and waves like stiff peaks in an egg whites bowl. Yellow turmeric rice looks as if it were plated grain by grain, each individual unto itself. Shawarma Muraf (shaved beef grilled with pepper and onions) is a beautiful mess of kebab without the stick, and it all gets tucked into flatbread so fragrant and fresh it flops like a pancake.

1435 Cleveland Ave. N., St. Paul

Wally’s Falafel and Hummus 
Dual “cones” of shawarma that could better be described as “beasts” rotate in the window at Wally’s, one chicken and one lamb. Leaves of meats feather down onto a pita in such portions you’ll begin making jaw-unhinging calculations before the sandwich even makes it to the table. Choose your pleasure: more traditional Greek-style pita with the bombardment of lamb, or the more svelte chicken paired with flat bread and briny slivers of pickle, chile sauce, and thick ribbons of mayo. Hummus and baba ghanoush are made practically to order, they're on such heavy rotation, and a couple tubs of these plus a loaf of pita bread will keep you fed for a week.

423 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis

Shish has been feeding the kids (and parents and teachers) of Macalaster for so long it’s difficult to remember the neighborhood without strong Middle Eastern coffee and chaksuka. The latter: creamy, sunny side up eggs cooked in rich, earthily spiced tomato sauce, grilled peppers, and snow-white dollops of feta. Served with pita, it's perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all points in between.

We’re also partial to their style of gyro, tucked inside Lebanese flatbread, and served with their addictive tzatziki. The meat is cubed rather than shaved, and the textural difference matters.

For the undecided, there are burgers of every kind from beef to lamb to falafel and even one with truffle and brie. This is as inclusive a place as you’ll ever come across, and if you haven’t met owner Leo, you’re missing out on one of the world’s great personalities. He ought to be our next mayor. Seek him out and find out exactly why we say so.

1668 Grand Ave., St. Paul

Big Marina Deli
Taking the yuck factor out of the buffet, Marina Deli offers a treasure trove of delicately prepared favorites old and new, that have nothing to do with more typical trough-style dining.

Find fat, purple dolmades, several permutations of rice that turn over often enough to keep the grains individual as snowflakes, baklava by the sheet pan, all the fixings to build-your-own gyro, and even American-style old friends like roast chicken and mac and cheese.

Other things to know: They’re open 365 days a year, kids eat free on Tuesdays, and during Ramadan the place is truly something to behold. You’ve never seen so much food! Not at Christmas, not on your birthday, and hardly even at the Las Vegas buffet. Mark your calendar.

4755 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights

Holy Land
Holy Land started as little more than a pastry case filled with a few home-cooked platters of hummus and pita. Since then, they’ve grown into a multi-national brand, selling their hummus far and wide, but the good news is, they’re ours through and through.

Holy Land has been noted everywhere from Zagat to Oprah, and the sprawling Central Avenue restaurant, market, and deli can make all your Mediterranean dreams come true. They also have a hummus factory on site, and you can take a virtual tour, here.

But virtual reality isn’t going to get your mouth full of wood-roasted kebabs and rotisserie or tandoori-fired meat (things go way beyond the gyro here). Also try the Bulgarian feta by the pound still dripping with brine, mint-infused lemonade, a tin of juicy dates the size of your head, and all of the olives. All of them. 

You could feasibly spend half a day here bouncing from counter to counter, table to grocery, deli to bakery, and never tire of all you see. But you’ll be very full indeed.  

2513 Central Ave. NE, Minneapoils