House Party

Eating at Cafe Mawal is like attending a backyard barbecue.

"It's our own recipe," he said. "A secret." He beamed at us as we gaped at him like fish caught on a line. Dammit. Not even a hint. He quickly changed the topic to sweets — a favorite of his — and soon he and Jody were reminiscing about their favorite Hillcroft sweet shops.

While they talked, I all but destroyed my Mawal-style chicken, two quarters of an entire chicken that had been grilled spread-eagle over an open flame. It looked like shish taouk in an intact form, the light meat seasoned with garlic, paprika and turmeric before being tossed onto a grill. Far from being dried out by the heat, every bite of chicken was juicy and perfect, demanding I use a piece of pita almost as a napkin.

After Abdallat left, we resumed eating the kebab, spreading the tangy lebneh — yogurt cheese — we'd ordered on the side onto each luscious bite of beef. Add some more pita bread into the equation, and we would've had all the fixings for a Jordanian cheeseburger.

Every bite of the Mawal-style chicken is juicy and perfect.
Troy Fields
Every bite of the Mawal-style chicken is juicy and perfect.

Location Info


Cafe Mawal

6006 Fairdale
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Galleria


See our slideshow of Cafe Mawal's welcoming patio and more.

11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Mondays through Sundays.

Kibbeh: $4.99

Tabbouleh: $2.99

Grape leaves: $4.99

Makanek: $5.99

Kafta kebab: $8.99

Hummus: $2.99

Lebneh: $2.99

Falafel: $2.99

Beef kebab: $8.99

Mawal-style chicken: $8.99

Cafe Mawal

6006 Fairdale Lane, 713-977-1999.

Dinner gone, I asked Jody if she'd like to stay for some shisha. She'd never smoked the flavored tobacco before, and the sun set that day on a crash course in double apple shisha and hookah etiquette.

Like coffee, shisha is used in the same capacity in Middle Eastern countries as quaffing a pint with a friend after work or catching up with family at home over wine. As at most Middle Eastern restaurants, there is no alcohol served at Cafe Mawal. But they do serve shisha.

While there are arguments as to whether or not the flavored tobacco is more or less harmful than smoking cigarettes, that hasn't stopped hookahs from becoming increasingly popular across the Middle East. They're just as popular here, where nearly every table has a hookah delivered to it either after or before meals. Cafe Mawal even offers a happy hour deal on its shisha in the late afternoons and early evenings, dropping the price from $10.99 to roughly half that.

One bowl of tobacco will usually last you for half an hour, and it's the ideal way to unwind after eating, enjoying the night air between drags of cooled smoke that fills your mouth like the juices from a fresh Honeycrisp apple. If the coals atop your pipe start to cool, simply take another drag. If they die completely, a man carrying a glowing coal box will be around shortly to get you sorted out. He sits and stokes the coals with a fan and a pair of long-handled tongs while he keeps an eye on the patio and its smokers, taking drags from his own hookah as he watches.

On a recent evening of shisha and coffee, my dining companion had me turn the coffee cup upside down when I was finished. "I'm going to read your fortune," she grinned. Our young Kazakhstani waitress came by to fill up our water glasses and laughed when she saw the inverted cup.

"Reading her fortune?" she chuckled to my friend.

"Trying to," my friend replied. "Let's see." She lifted the cup from the saucer as the waitress and I looked on, intrigued.

It was a muddy mess. I was crestfallen. "You have no future!" cried the waitress in mock anguish.

"I messed up," my friend sheepishly replied. I didn't care. With a belly full of succulent meat, and a patio begging me to stay all evening long and linger over some shisha and coffee, I'd rather live in the moment anyway.

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Christy Lee
Christy Lee

Tonigt's singer/music were outstanding/ Hummus was very good, fresh and flavorful. It was lots of fun listening and watching the people enjoying dancing!