Its name may suggest otherwise, but the flavors and aromas that permeate Hush Hush announce themselves with undeniable, audible confidence.
433 SW Fourth Ave,
We’ve already sung the praises of Karam’s ethereal falafel. But there’s room for more than just one Middle Eastern hot spot in this town. (In fact, Karam and Hush Hush are mere blocks from each other.) And while the quiet name of this hidden downtown gem may suggest otherwise, the flavors and aromas that permeate Hush Hush announce themselves with an undeniable, audible confidence. Behind the counter, two spits sporting hunks of seasoned lamb and chicken shawarma turn round and round daily, the smell of succulent, roasted meat emanating into the dining room. In the back kitchen, someone’s forming circles of pita by hand, the comforting smell of warm dough wafting through the air. At the tables, diners feast on stuffed grape leaves ($5), tender lamb sandwiches ($6.50), airy spinach pies ($5.50), and honeyed baklava ($2). They are sated and happy, these loyal diners on their lunch breaks or just in for a quick dinner before driving home from work. And so is owner Nezam Hammad. How can we tell? By the perpetual grin on his face every time he briefly looks up from all those kabobs he’s carefully attending to on the grill. —CD
Hot Pot City
1975 SW First Ave, #J,
Mon-Sun 11:30AM-4PM, 5-9:30PM
All-you-can-eat buffets may allow you to pile up your plate with all the food your stomach desires, but the food usually just plain stinks. Luckily this clean and airy Chinese hot-pot spot finally gets the formula right by letting customers do all the cooking themselves.
Here’s how it works: Find a seat at the wooden bar (or at a table if you’re a large group), where an attentive server will ask which broth you want—there are seven kinds, ranging from mild vegetarian to spicy hot-and-sour. Then head to the buffet line and load a plate up with raw ingredients—thin slices of beef and pork, bite-sized pieces of chicken, chunks of tofu, slices of bok choy, and more. Finally, mix up your own sauce, maybe augmenting a base of premixed soy sauce, chile, and lime juice with “Taiwanese barbecue sauce.”
Once the server has placed the pot of broth over your individual burner and it’s begun to boil, you’re ready. Plunge a few morsels in, and as each bite cooks to your satisfaction, ladle it into your serving bowl with a bit of broth. Add some sauce, and then eat. Repeat. It’s a fantastic all-you-can-slurp deal at just $7.95 for lunch or $13.95 for dinner. And since you’re the official mix-master of the dish’s flavor, you’ve nobody to blame but yourself if it isn’t to your liking. —CR
Queen of Sheba
2413 NE MLK Jr. Blvd,
Thu-Sat noon-2PM, Mon-Sun 5-10PM
Despite the name, this is not necessarily a regal establishment: Primitively embroidered tablecloths sheathed in plastic is about as fancy as it gets. But the flavorful food—while consisting mostly of humble ingredients such as split peas, mustard greens, chicken, beef, and lamb—always rises to the occasion. A typical meal here features a medley of headily spiced meats, vegetable stews, and sautés, all served family-style atop a gargantuan, 16-inch-wide sourdough crêpe made from teff flour. Tear off a piece of that spongy bread—called injera—and use it to scoop up mouthfuls of mushroom, okra, and beef sautéed in a deep red, spicy-hot berbere sauce. A couple of omnivores can eat heartily by ordering two meat dishes ($12-15) and adding a few vegetable sides ($3 each), while vegans will delight in the house vegan sampler ($23). What with all the communal eating, both types of eaters can be found side by side, chewing in peace for a fair price. —CR