The "fast-casual" model pioneered by Chipotle that's revamping America's concept of fast food has been applied to food groups ranging from salad to pizza and sushi burritos.
But wrap-friendly Middle Eastern food is perhaps one of the most logical cuisines to adapt to the model, and the recently arrived Naf Naf Grill is doing it very well.
The Chicago chain ("Naf Naf" is Hebrew slang for "let's start up the fire") has doubled in size over the last year to 27 stores, including three locations in this area (1919 Market St., King of Prussia, and Mount Laurel) that are the first on the East Coast.
Naf Naf serves a lot of familiar street foods, from falafel to hummus and pitas baked on site fresh. But the shawarmas, well-seasoned meats spinning on vertical skewers (a la gyro) are what distinguish it most.
The beef version is perfectly good and tender.
But I find the chicken shawarma wears its exotic spice more vividly, tinted with paprika and aromatic cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and chilies.
A robot blade shaves the heat-roasted edges into juicy ribbons to be mixed into either pita wraps or over a rice bowl garnished with hummus, or creamy baba ghanoush and various crunchy salads.
I find the pitas a little too soft (like Wonder Pitas), so bowls are my preference. But once all the fixings are added, from the tart pickles and fenugreek-infused mango amba sauce to a little jalapeno heat of Yemenite s'khug, it all adds up to one flavorful, healthy, and satisfying meal.
- Craig LaBan
Chicken shawarma pita ($7.55) or rice bowl ($8.55), Naf Naf Grill, 1919 Market St., 267-930-4002; nafnafgrill.com