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I'm never going to say that Kedzie Avenue has too many Middle Eastern restaurants, especially since some of the best are distinctive. The gritty, no-nonsense Salam has the best food on the street. Al-Khaymeih runs a close second--and you can take your mom and a bottle there. "Restaurant of restaurants" Mataam al-Mataam is open 24-7, and Semiramis has that powerful toum. So with the familiar menu of shawarma, kebabs, hummus, falafel, fattoush, etc, etc, what does the week-old Dawali have that's going to draw customers farther north from the others? For one thing, every day the alluring aroma of baking bread blasts across the parking lot, issuing like a siren's call from its next door neighbor, the grocery and bakery Pita House.
That's what continued to turn my head toward this place ever since it announced its impending arrival back in March. Last night we gave it a test run, ordering at the counter, getting our own drinks, and sitting down to an appetizer sampler of pretty basic baba ghanoush, heavily emulsified humus, grilled vegetables (masaka'a) and crispy though oddly herbaceous and wet falafel. Galaya, a tomato-onion-beef saute was richly seasoned but tasted like it had been held (and arrived fast enough to indicate it), and lamb shish kebab was fine, tender enough and not overcooked, but nothing spectacular.
But the shawarma, with very clearly defined layers of beef and fat-streaked lamb, showed some potential (closeup attached). Its exterior bits were crispy and nicely charred, but though the aforementioned fat contributed tenderness, it still seemed a bit dry. The stack on the Autodoner was still pretty large--I wondered if it would have been really excellent if they had been doing a brisker business, or if it had been earlier in the day.
Yes, the bread comes from Pita House--one of the guys at the counter went over for a couple fresh bags during our meal, and again later for some spices. I'm not sold on Dawali yet, but it bears further investigation.
Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen, 4911 N. Kedzie, 773-267-4200. Update: They now take credit cards.