When he was in college, Kansas City author Adib Khorram taught himself to make Persian food.
Khorram, who grew up in Gladstone with an Iranian-born father, hadn't always felt comfortable embracing that part of his background when he was kid. The struggle to find cultural belonging would later be mirrored in his semi-autobiographical young adult novel. Another thing that found its way into his book, "Darius The Great Is Not Okay"? Iranian cuisine.
In conversation with Gina Kaufmann and KCUR's Food Critics, Khorram shared some thoughts about Persian food.
"There is nothing quite like the experience of getting kabobs fresh off the skewer with a heaping mountain of rice," he said.
One of his favorite area spots is KC Grill N' Kabob in Lenexa.
"When you don't have a giant grill out back, it's nice to find a restaurant that does it justice," he said.
Food Critic Carlton Logan is also a kabob fan. He says it's the "bridge dish" that brought him to eating, and enjoying, Middle Eastern cuisine.
"My eye was drawn to the chicken and shrimp kabob at Jerusalem Cafe because it had rice," Logan said. "I grew up on rice, so I thought, well, this is kind of familiar."
Below, Carlton and fellow Food Critics Charles Ferruzza and Jill Silva share their favorite Middle Eastern restaurants and dishes found in and around the Kansas City area.
Charles Ferruzza, KCUR Food Critic
- Cosentino's Market: The dolmas in the deli case here are great and can be taken home, frozen, and eaten later.
- The Basha Cuisine: Get the classic gyro.
- Papu's Cafe: The chicken shawarma is the pick here.
- Jerusalem Cafe: A classic, longtime Kansas City favorite. A fan of the chicken and shrimp kabob.
- Pita Blu: For something sweet, try the baklava here. If you're looking for a dinner option to accompany the dessert, the beef and lamb kabob is the way to go.
- Holy Land Cafe: This place offers gyros, kabobs and shawarma as well as moussaka, chicken biryani and chick curry. I'm particularly fond of the smokiness in the bab ghanouj.
- KC Grill 'N Kabob: Specializes in kabobs and offers an all-you-can-eat buffet that allows you to try new foods. They also have pistachio-rosewater ice cream.
- Habashi House: A Kansas City institution that never disappoints. The falafel is heavenly, which explains the long lines on weekends. Meals come with a free cup of tea.
- Chef Kamal products: Few people have done more for pushing Middle Eastern and Mediteranean food into the Kansas City mainstream than chef Yahia Kamal, who greets everyone he meets with an infectious, "Hello, my friend!"
- Papu's Cafe: In the tradition of great gas station restaurants, this one offers shawarma and tasty tabbouleh and dolmas ... instead of barbecue or pizza.
- Bella Luna Cafe: If you're on a roadtrip to Wichita, stop to check this place out. The upscale restaurant has a strong mezze platter and upscale kebab entrees, including a chicken, shrimp skewer with peppercorn saucce and a beef filet with portobello mushroom sauce.
- Rumman: Kebabs, gyros and shawarma are solid choices. But if you want to explore the varied influences, try the sujoq (Lebanese lamb sausage cooked with tomatoes, garlic and lemon in a clay pot), the Palestinian fish dish satadya (cooked with rice, glazed onions, spiced with cumin, lemon, tomatoes and garlic), or Jordanian mansaf (a lamb dish with yogurt sauce served with rice and roasted almonds).
- Jerusalem Cafe: It is amazing. Not a fancy restaurant, but the selection is amazing. Stuffed grape leaves are a favorite.
- Moe's World's Greatest: A local hummus proveyor with lots of unusual flavors. They also have a great smokey baba ganoush.
- Aladdin Cafe: A lot more authentic than some places in town. They have a really fantastic lentil soup.
- Chebaro: Found the best falafel in this spot, which is located in a Lawrence, Kansas, Cenex gas station.
- YaYa's: The baba ganoush is really, really good.