The Palms in San Jose served a great chicken shawarma, an Iraqi version of the lavash-wrapped sandwich. But the restaurant closed two years ago. Taking its place is International Kabob House.
As good as I remember that shawarma, International Kabob House’s is even better. And the rest of the menu is just as strong. It’s my new favorite Middle Eastern restaurant.
The restaurant sits across a shopping center from the International Food Bazaar, a Middle Eastern grocery store owned by the same Palestinian family. Owning a grocery store and a meat market gives the restaurant an edge.
The International Kabob House serves a mix of Middle Eastern and Greek foods that you’ve no doubt encountered elsewhere;kebabs, falafel, moussaka, shawarma. But what sets the place apart is the hearty, fresh quality of the food, the excellent service and the attention to detail.
I recommend starting with an order of the feta fries ($3.95), french fries tossed with chunks of feta cheese and a tangy oregano vinaigrette. The fries are irresistible. All of the dips and spreads are good, so go for the “mazza sampler” ($12.95), five ice cream scoops of all the restaurant’s dips. My favorites are the chunky, smoked babaghanouj and the htipiti, a piquant blend of feta cheese, red bell peppers, garlic and olive oil.
The shawarma sandwiches really shine, with options of chicken or lamb. The restaurant marinates and roasts its own meat in a vertical broiler (some places buy their meat frozen). The chicken ($7.95) is best, with juicy slices of bird loaded into a lavash wrap with marinated red cabbage, onions and tomatoes.
The lamb version ($8.95) had great flavor but was a bit dry. Reach for the excellent chile and tahini sauces on the table to lubricate and spice up the sandwich.
While the namesake kebabs are good, particularly the koubideh kebab ($7.45), I found that the rest of the menu outshone the kebabs. The crusty-but-tender-inside falafel, served either as a pita sandwich ($6.95) or wrapped up with lavash, is quite good.
I had heard good things about the watermelon and feta cheese salad special, but it wasn’t on the menu because watermelon isn’t in season. A Middle Eastern restaurant that serves seasonal produce? Unheard of;and welcome. The mixed spring greens served with the sandwiches do just fine.
For something a little different, try the garides ($14.95), a Greek dish of grilled prawns served over a wheat-zucchini cake and drizzled with a light garlic-yogurt sauce.
A glass of fresh-made mint lemonade ($3.45) is the beverage of choice. It sounded as if they were shaking a martini as each drink was made to order.
For dessert, the house-made baklava ($5.95) is a little soggy but still good. The best part was the dense, honey-sweetened Greek yogurt served with it.