Located in an unassuming strip mall on Charlotte's colorful east side, La Shish Kebob shares its space with an Ethiopian grocery store, a Middle Eastern bakery and an African-American barbershop. But come lunchtime, patrons of those other establishments are likely to smell the roast lamb and spices distinctive to La Shish. The small eatery specializes in foods from the Middle East - Lebanon, Syria, Palestinian Territories and Jerusalem - where owner Izzat Freitekh hails from.
Upon entering, customers are greeted by a gong doorbell and boisterous welcome. If you come hungry, be forewarned: the place smells delicious, but it can be difficult discerning exactly which dish is tickling your olfactories. A glass case displays beef and lamb kabobs, and whole rotisserie chickens covered in a secret herb mix drip juice before your eyes.
La Shish Kebob opened two years ago, but Freitekh has been running kitchens since 1985. "My mom is from Lebanon, and I learned cooking from her in the beginning. Then I studied more. Now, any kind of food, I cook it," he says.
The restaurant offers some American foods, like chicken wings and cheeseburgers. All the meat is halal. Most popular is the chicken shwarma, which saw a big bump in popularity after the crave-inducing final scene of the Avengers last summer. As a Middle Eastern food snob, I gave the side-eye to numerous Yelp reviews evangelizing La Shish's version, posted by first-timers who'd never had the dish. But after ordering, I had to agree - this was the best chicken shwarma I've ever tasted.
Everything is homemade, from the falafel, hummus and baba ghannouj down to the delightfully garlicky red and green hot sauce. The food is spicy but not hot, except some items, like the Kami Kebob, named for the city in Turkey where it originates. The dish is lamb covered in a mix of flavorful ingredients that will, indeed, make you break a sweat. Like a few other offerings, the Kami is not listed on the menu, but Freitekh is glad to expound on any item in the shop.
The No. 1 question people ask is what does halal mean? Halal is the way we prepare the meat. It is fresh, and when slaughtered the animal is hung upside down for three days to drain out all of the blood. It is also refrigerated immediately, to kill all bacteria in the meat.
Mansaf, a lamb cooked in yogurt, famous in Jordan and Palestine. It is served over rice that is also cooked in the lamb broth. The dish takes four hours to make, and when done the lamb is so tender it falls off the bone. I make it Friday, and it's usually gone in two hours. So it is only available on weekends. Many people pre-order it because once it's gone, it's gone until next week.
I go home and eat something light, because when you make the rice and the lamb every day, you want something different when you go home. And after cooking all day, I want someone else to cook for me, so my wife will fix me a sandwich, maybe a chicken Philly.
La Shish Kabob
Fresh and healthy Middle Eastern mainstays such as chicken shawarma, baba ghannouj, falafel and of course kabobs shine here.
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Owner: Izzat Freitekh
3117-A N. Sharon Amity Road
Izzat Freitekh knows numerous Charlotte restaurants serve shish kabobs and wraps. Some of those restaurants even say they serve Middle Eastern food, like his restaurant does-but they're not the same as La Shish Kabob.
Like any cuisine, there are variations of Middle Eastern cuisine. La Shish Kabob, a small café nestled in a shopping center at the intersection of Albemarle and Sharon Amity, serves food familiar to people from Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Freitekh explained.
The dishes have similar names such as kabobs and shawarmas (think gyro), but the meat tastes di!erent and the bread is different, Freitekh said.
At La Shish Kabob, Freitekh serves up Middle Eastern mainstays such as chicken shawarma, baba ghannouj, falafel and of course kabobs. Falafel, a street food staple, is one of the café's hottest sellers. Freitekh said the mixed grill-beef, lamb and chicken skewers-is another of the café's signature platters. The three large skewers come with a huge helping of basmati rice and sides. The lentil soup is flavorful and a good accompaniment.
Freitekh takes pride in ensuring that all of the dishes are homemade. Each day, there's a different dish as a featured special.
"Everything is fresh and healthy," he said.
During a recent visit, Freitekh had an enthusiastic conversation with a customer from Egypt who was excited to hear about the ingredients used in La Shish Kabob's baba ghannouj. The customer, a woman who has lived in Charlotte since the '70s, said she has watched the city's restaurant o!erings slowly begin to reflect the diversity of its residents.
La Shish Kabob is part of this shift. His restaurant is beginning to get more customers who aren't familiar with Mediterranean cuisine, Freitekh said. After owning a popular restaurant in Jerusalem for more than 20 years, he finally opened La Shish Kabob at his son's urging.
"It is not secure [in Jerusalem]," Freitekh said. "I am very happy here."
- Profile written by Tonya Jameson
I am a picky Mediterranean/ Arab food diner, but I gotta say that some of their selections are just off the hook! i.e. their chicken and beef kabob skewers over the yellow rice, lentil soup, cucumber and tomato salad. And the price you pay for the portion you get is a steal!
Having that said, I like the yellow rice more than their orange (or what they call the "special" rice). Since to me it's tastier, I think the yellow rice should actually be the special rice, but oh well, whatever floats their boat. Overall, their entrees are just soooo filling and amazingly tasting for me, and it just makes my day.
The dessert looks okay but I can't say much about it because I've never tried it. Their entrée portions are large and they are usually enough for me.
***A tip for everyone: I have noticed that if you take out and taking a long drive home, the food won't taste as hot and fresh as it originally was piping hot before. I suggest re-heating your food, but the taste is still great and authentic. But this is not the owner's or the restaurant's fault, it's just common sense for some foods when you take out and drive a long way home like I did twice before.
The ambiance/ aesthetics of this place are not great and the restaurant is small, but it's a very small fast food place which is mostly great for take out. But although its more take out style, the food is definitely restaurant quality. I really just go there for a delicious and filling meal.
Staff is friendly but since the place is small and always packed (every time I went anyway), they can't always attend to you every moment because of the rush and trying to get to everyone's order as quick as possible.
Visited March 2014