Once the location of a Somali-Puerto Rican takeout called Somali Star, 139 Grant St. has changed flags.
Now called Shawarma King, there's still some unusual, tasty food here that makes it worth stopping by if you're in the neighborhood.
When we visited for lunch recently, we scanned the wall menu and asked for a mixed appetizer ($3.75), a chicken shawarma wrap ($5.99), and a salmon fish plate ($8.99). There are other chicken sandwich and dinner choices, but the lamb and falafel mentioned on the storefront's signage was not in evidence during our visit.
Shawarma is usually shaved-off slices or chunks of meat that are piled up and rotating on a spindle as they're cooked by a gas fire. Most chicken shawarma I've had suffered from lack of moisture.
Here, the chicken shawarma didn't have that problem. The meat was finely chopped, almost crumbled, but stayed moist in the sandwich -- and there was lots of it. It didn't have much grilled taste, but the hefty sandwich, loaded with banana peppers, cabbage, lettuce, black olives and dressing, was big enough to reassure me I wouldn't be hungry before dinner.
It came with a sizable helping of fries, too, in their own container. Dusted with a piquant chili spice mix, they were hard to stop eating.
The salmon was a brave choice for a fried-stuff-and-sandwich place, but it didn't disappoint. It came with a crisp, well-dressed salad of lettuce, parsley, tomato and cucumber, and a mound of fluffy long-grain rice scented with clove and cumin seed.
The salmon had been cooked with tomatoes, onions and peppers, and was still flaky and tolerably moist, even though it'd been waiting in a steam table tray.
The mixed appetizer was a bundle of deep-fried goodies that includes two samosas, the Somali meat turnover that I enjoyed versions of in the Somali Star days. The triangle-shaped pastry contained ground beef flavored with onion, chili flakes and cardamom, a slightly spicy but robust combination that made the samosas the first thing to disappear.
The wrapper was chewy, not crispy, as if the pastries had languished in the hot case awaiting our arrival. But if I knew I could get samosas just out of the fryer, as a later customer did, I would seriously consider asking if I could wait for fresh ones.
They're just $1 by themselves, and you can get a little cup of flavorful but fiery creamy green hot sauce for dipping. (By fiery, I mean sweat on my brow, and I enjoy my Duff's wings medium and my Anchor Bar wings hot.) There's also a tamarind sauce, sweet and mildly hot.
Also on the appetizer plate: two chewy fritters that the server said were ground black-eyed peas; two big chunks of potato, battered and fried; and two puffy pieces of slightly sweet bread.
Shawarma King is more of a neighborhood takeout than a dinner place. There are two card tables and folding chairs if you want to sit and eat.
If a filling, flavorful meal at a good price means more to you than customer comfort, you could find Shawarma King worth a visit.
2.5 pennies (out of four)
"Try the spiced beef samosa"
WHERE: 139 Grant St. (883-0620)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed on Sunday.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes