After I returned to Evanston from my trip to Israel this Winter Break, the last thing I wanted to do was eat Mediterranean food. I turned up my nose to all mentions of the word pita and was insulted by dining hall hummus. I claimed I had seen and tasted the best the world had to offer.
However, Evanston is now home to two new Mediterranean food locales, Naf Naf Grill and Olive Mediterranean Grill, and I couldn’t exactly ignore all of the delicious new food located just blocks from my dorm. The only question that remained, though, was deciding where to eat.
Naf Naf Grill
Since opening in November, Naf Naf Grill, 1629 Orrington Ave., has been serving up falafel, shawarma and pita to Evanston residents. General manager Jordan Maman said Naf Naf Grill provides a fast, high-quality customer experience that keeps people coming back for more.
“We’re always smiling, thanking the customers and greeting the customers,” Maman said. “We’re moving at an efficient pace, so there isn’t a line out the door. But we’re not rushing.”
Maman said Naf Naf Grill’s most popular item is their chicken shawarma sandwich and that the restaurant gets a lot of student traffic.
Olive Mediterranean Grill
Just a few blocks from Naf Naf Grill, OMG, 1726 Sherman Ave., has a similar menu but a different customer focus.
Rather than emphasizing speed and efficiency, OMG partner Irfan Zia said healthy food is what sets the restaurant apart.
“We want them to come in and have that homely feeling where it’s a comfortable environment,” Zia said. “The food is all fresh, and nothing is processed. They feel like they’ve just prepared themselves a meal, but they haven’t actually cooked for themselves.”
OMG opened Jan. 10. Zia said his interaction with students has been very positive, and he hopes OMG can fill the role of a healthy choice alternative.
Now that you know a little bit about each place, read on to find out which of these Mediterranean juggernauts reigned supreme.
Naf Naf Grill killed it with their hummus.
First of all, you can decide whether or not you want the chickpea spread on your sandwich or bowl, and they even gave me a little bit on the side for free. The hummus was very flavorful and memorable.
OMG, on the other hand, has a more defined menu, and not all of the sandwiches come with hummus on it. For $2.50, however, you can enjoy a side of hummus and few pieces of pita. Unfortunately, though the portion of hummus was certainly more generous than at Naf Naf Grill, the pita to hummus ratio was totally out of whack. I had way too much hummus for the amount of pita I received, leading me to waste a lot of it.
The falafel award definitely goes to OMG. The $6.50 sandwich at OMG, in comparison to the $5.99 offering at Naf Naf Grill, was excellent. The pieces of falafel were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The potatoes that came on the sandwich were also delicious and complemented the falafel well. In addition, the Mediterranean salad, consisting of tomato, onion, pepper and a few other flavors, enhanced the falafel well. The only drawback to the OMG falafel was that the homemade pita it was placed on got a little flimsy under the weight of the food, and some spillage occurred. Messiness factor aside, however, this falafel was top notch.
Both restaurants claimed chicken shawarma was their most popular dish, and I understand why. The sandwiches were absolutely delicious, but in very different ways. At OMG, the meal came with a garlic spread that really highlighted the nice flavors in the chicken. The sandwich was $6.50 at OMG and $6.79 at Naf Naf Grill. At Naf Naf Grill, the chicken wasn’t dry at all, and the basmati rice had excellent spices that mixed well with the chicken.
In the end, I have to give the nod to Naf Naf Grill. The chicken was phenomenally flavorful, and because the sandwiches are more customizable, customers have the chance to decide what toppings they want.
Naf Naf Grill feels very much like a Mediterranean Chipotle. Customers move quickly through the line, and the staff doesn’t interact much with patrons aside from asking what toppings they want. If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, this atmosphere is definitely appealing. The food at Naf Naf Grill is very good, and the prices were reasonable.
On the other hand, upon walking into OMG, employees offered free samples and were very pleasant. The restaurant was well lit and clean and certainly gave off a more organic, healthy feel. The food at OMG was good, but I would have liked more of an opportunity to select my own toppings as opposed to having the sandwich fixings pre-determined.
Overall, the food at Naf Naf was better in two of three categories, but the experience of visiting OMG definitely came out on top. If you’re looking for good Mediterranean food, Evanston definitely has two solid options.
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