Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Review: Eat at Naf Naf

The other day, I spotted a Naf Naf restaurant in Champaign, which turned out to be a Middle Eastern grill. Yesterday Doug spotted another in Greenup of all places, so we went back to that one today. See a locator page to search for one in your area. So far they're mostly in the Midwest with a few farther east. It is absolutely worth your while to watch for if you are in range. Helpfully, the logo has a camel on it, which is distinctive and easy to spot.

The online menu favors build-your-your own combos. Doug says there are some extra things inside the restaurant that aren't visible online. He got the hummus bowl with chicken shawarma. I got the basmati rice bowl with steak. Despite pita being a separate base option, it also came free with the bowls. I don't think it is the same as Greek pita, which is flat and fairly tough. This is tender and pillowy, so it may be some other Persian recipe that they're calling "pita" so people will have some chance of recognizing that it means "flat pocket bread." The other bases are romaine lettuce or couscous. Both the chicken shawarma and the steak are excellent. Their spice level is vivid but not unpleasantly hot. That means it should be okay if you eat any spice at all. If you prefer very hot things, get the harissa or s'khug sauce. The hummus and the basmati rice are plain but very good, which is the idea with a base item. If you wish them to be not plain, there are a bunch of toppings you can add to spice them up. The basmati rice gets its vivid yellow color from turmeric -- a more Middle Eastern than Mediterranean or Indian version -- not saffron. I like this about as much as saffron, and it is vastly cheaper. Falafel is the third protein option, we haven't tried that yet. We also got a couple of toppings on the side. We will probably do it that way again because they'll store better separate, which makes for nicer leftovers. We got the chopped salad, which is the best one of those I've ever had. It's mostly diced cucumber, a little diced tomato, and a generous amount of cilantro. So if you like those things you will probably love it. It lacks the raw onion or pickled peppers that are almost universal in this category of salad. It's also a naked salad, without dressing; if you prefer dressed salad, there are multiple sauce options. I am so going to make this myself some time. Part of the charm is that it works equally well as as a salad or as a topping. The baba ganoush is far more garlic flavored than eggplant, but that's okay, and it's well made. I'd just stick a knife in it, wiggle that in a pita, and add other fillings. The baklava is less impressive but acceptable (seems to be outsourced). Doug said it was dry for his taste. I was just glad that I didn't have to peel the bag off it. For a beverage we had lemonade, which made a perfect complement to the meal.

We paid $25 for a grocery-size bag stuffed with food. It sounds pricey for fast food, but the value is extremely high, both in quality and quantity. We stuffed ourselves, and there was still quite a large quantity of food left. We probably have several servings left. Just the two partial pitas will be a meal each when stuffed with other things. Good, fast, cheap: pick 2. It's a little slower than average for fast food because you're standing in front of a buffet pointing out what items you want, so compare it to places like Panda Express, Subway, or Chipotle rather than McDonald's. You absolutely get what you pay for and then some. Doug said there's a lot of "Do you want the (food item) that comes with this?" So the next time, we plan to order just one plate and split it. That and the other stuff should be plenty.

I saw mixed references online regarding whether or not Naf Naf is halal or kosher -- their website doesn't seem to say -- so it may vary by restaurant. Certainly it is easy to assemble a vegetarian or vegan feast there. It's also mostly healthy food, and plenty of it is high fiber. It is a fast food chain with vegetables actually worth eating, which is very rare. They have easily the best fast food salad I've ever had, and I'm not a salad fan to begin with -- usually the only fast food salad worth having is cole slaw and that's hit or miss. Not hot dogs! Not hamburgers! I am all asquee!

Be aware that while this is a roadside restaurant, the plates are really not car food, and you are liable to wind up with more food than can easily be handled even in a parked car. (We had zero interest in leaving the air-conditioned car for the sauna outside.) If you wish to eat on the road, get the pita option and stuff things in there. I believe this pita is springy enough that it won't fall apart, or split at the seam like Greek pita sometimes does. But I haven't tested that yet. If you have a car full of people, Naf Naf is an excellent way to feed them efficiently and deliciously. You will just need a table for all that food.

If you have been wishing you could eat out of Terramagne, especially at Kardal's Syrian Foods truck, this menu has a lot of overlap with Kardal's menu. Just the details are a little different. You can totally make a Hummus Buster at Naf Naf: get the pita, put hummus in it, add your choice of meat or falafel, top with the chopped salad (or other veggies), and any sauce you want. I'm not sure exactly how you'd need to work the ordering, but they have all the ingredients available and they are delicious. If you want something like a Dip Tray/Platter, get the pita base and whatever else you want for sauce. If you want something like the Falafel Tray, the falafel is your protein option on top of some other base so you'll also get pita, hummus, or whatever plus your vegetable topping and sauce options. If you want something like the Hummus Tray, get the hummus bowl (it comes with pita) and whatever vegetable topping and sauce you want. \o/

Most highly recommended. The quality and bang-for-buck are actually above average compared to sit-down Middle Eastern restaurants we have tried, plus this is faster and (sort of) portable. Just the selection is narrower than sit-down menus, but it still gives plenty of options. We already plan to eat at Naf Naf again, as there are other things we wish to try.

EDIT 7/28/21: Late night snack: also quite excellent.  Method: spread a small amount of baba ganoush inside the smaller of the remaining pitas.  Tear a few pieces of steak into tiny bits and put them in the pita.  Microwave for 30 seconds to warm.  Stuff in as much chopped salad as will fit.  :D  I am not normally a fan of leftovers, but there are a few things that reheat well.  An advantage of Naf Naf is that if you get the topping and spread separate, you can recombine things in different ways.  Also I would totally eat a pita as car food in preference over other fast food.
Tags: a little slice of terramagne, ethnic studies, food, review

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