When the time comes for the Delmar trolley to pause at Westgate Avenue and you’re aboard, jump off. You’ll be within a stone’s throw of Al-Tarboush in the U-City Loop. The small, Lebanese deli is the second green awning on the right. Likely Sam, the owner, will be there. (His real name is Sleiman Bathani, but everyone calls him Sam.)
I’ve been going to Al-Tarboush for nearly 20 years and Sam is regularly on site, though one of his five daughters is usually assembling the orders. I’m told that Sam was the singer, and his wife the cook, in their former restaurant in Chicago. Sam does have a big smile and a pleasant speaking voice, but I’ve never heard him break into an aria for the benefit of his customers.
With or without music, being in business in the same spot for such a long time is evidence of a devoted clientele. Sam and his family have built their following on authentic, reasonably priced food and quick, friendly service.
Four inside tables fill most of the floor space and there’s a couple more tables street side. The refrigerator cases lining the wall are stocked with take-home items, such as hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmadas and more. Their website indicates they have online ordering and catering services as well.
On my recent visit to the Loop, I had the Chicken Shawrma Sandwich with lettuce, parsley, onions and tahini sauce wrapped in pita ($6.50). Robin went with the Shish Taouk Sandwich composed of chicken, garlic paste, and pickles ($6.50). That means we had to pass up the Kafta Sandwich (with ground beef) and the Gyros made with either chicken, beef, or lamb. And the meat, spinach and cheese pies. Oh, so many choices.
We also split an order of Sam’s signature dish: Falafels—though the red neon sign in the window reads “falafil.” The discrepancy shows the several spellings given to the dish favored throughout the Mediterranean area. Whichever way it’s spelled, the little balls of ground, fried chickpeas served with tahini sauce at Al-Tarboush are addictive. Here’s a full menu.
After eating one of the ample-size sandwiches, it’s hard to find room for an almond, pistachio, or walnut baklava. But one must try. Sharing a sandwich makes this easier.
Al-Tarboush Deli, 602 Westgate Avenue. Open: Mon-Sat 11a-6:30p; closed Sunday.