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Rumor to Rest

Who says Houston has bad shawarma?

If I could eat only three things here, over and over and over again, it would be the tabbouleh, the pita bread and the splendid falafel. These three items, so poorly constructed at other restaurants, are made expertly here. The falafel are huge and fluffy, not the awful wads of densely packed, miserably green-tinted chickpeas that have the consistency of a baseball you often see elsewhere. These falafel are heavily and richly flavored with bright parsley, spicy garlic and intense coriander. A lightly fried exterior parts with a deeply satisfying crunch, exposing the pillowy-soft inside of the fritter. The falafel are especially good tucked inside a pita, with plenty of soft hummus and crunchy veggies.

Likewise, the tabbouleh here should be experienced at least once by anyone who's even remotely a fan of Middle Eastern food, or even those who aren't. I can't count the number of disappointing tabboulehs I've eaten over the years: dry, underflavored stuff that tastes like chewing your way through a bag of grass clippings. The tabbouleh at Abdallah's is addictive. The tiny pearls of bulgur are perfectly balanced with finely chopped parsley and mint, all of it nearly swimming in a refreshing, citrusy dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. It's a clean, invigorating taste that I've never come close to seeing replicated at any other Middle Eastern restaurant in Houston.
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One afternoon, I lingered over a plate of kibbe pie (called "baked kibbe" at Abdallah's) and stewed green beans, taking in the sights and sounds of the restaurant. Kibbe — a dish made with bulgur wheat and minced beef or lamb in its simplest incarnation — is available in several forms here. The typical kibbe "torpedos" are available each day, as is kibbe nayyeh — which uses raw meat, similar to kitfo in Ethiopian cuisine — but only on Saturdays. That Thursday afternoon, I'd asked for a plate of my usual kibbe balls and two sides but was steered away by the man behind the steam table.

Shawarma and tabbouleh are among Abdallah's best and most ­authentic items.
Troy Fields
Shawarma and tabbouleh are among Abdallah's best and most ­authentic items.

Location Info

Map

Abdallah's

3939 Hillcroft
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Four-vegetable plate: $6.99

Kibbe plate: $9.99

Falafel shawarma: $3.99

Shawarma and one side: $5.99

Shish kabob plate: $11.99

Kibbe nayyeh: $10.99

Daily special: $9.99

Abdallah's Bakery

3939 Hillcroft, 713-952-4747.

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"This is better," he pointed somewhat gruffly towards the kibbe pie. It looked great. Why not? And how can you not appreciate that kind of honesty?

The pie was, indeed, better. I liked the richly flavored crust of bulgur wheat that surrounded the minced beef on both sides. It tasted of cinnamon and allspice and perhaps the vaguest bit of mint. It was scored on the top in a diamond pattern, making it that much easier to cut bites off and pop them into my mouth. With the green beans (and an extra side of tabbouleh, naturally), it was a lovely way to pass a lunch hour, enjoying the visual feast that is the exotic packaging of boxes of dates and sweets stacked on one table, the pleasant curves of fat bags of lentils and beans stacked on another, shelves filled with bottles of olive oil and honey.

Although I'd mostly resisted all the phyllo-crafted desserts that beckoned from one side of the store over my last few visits, I splurged and bought one of the immense trays that I'd been eyeing alongside those heaps of dry goods. Abdallah's has one of the larger selections of pastries in town. They aren't as sweet as you may be accustomed to, rosewater being more prominent in some desserts than the honey. But this only means they aren't oppressively sugary — a nice change of pace from the honey-drowned baklava you'll find elsewhere.

Traditional holiday cookies, or ma'amoul, are one of the many choices in the case and especially fitting during the month of Ramadan. There are also more mainstream Middle Eastern desserts like baklava and halva. Long, cigar-shaped znood es-sett sit coyly next to finely woven birds' nests of kunafi, the entire dessert display looking like something off of an Arabian prince's feasting table.

As she packaged up my tray of pastries, the woman behind the register chuckled, "You're going to be popular back at the office." The pastries went as quickly as anticipated in the newsroom, although a few people asked me afterwards, "What's Abdallah's?"

Abdallah's is the place with the delightful pita bread, amazing falafel and perfect tabbouleh. And it's the place where rumors about bad shawarma go to die.

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