Saturday, August 13, 2011


With political and religious tension over the years many Lebanese have felt the need to leave the home land and migrate to safer havens. One such immigrant destination is Canada where a growing population of expats is awaiting them in Toronto. Specifically in the Lawrence Ave. E area between Victoria Park and Warden. It’s along this 1 mile (or so) strip you’ll find some of the best shawarma in the city. With several places competing for your food dollar the quality is high and so is the value. I perused the Chowhound Ontario board and came up with what are considered the 3 best in the area.

Shawarma is to Lebanese what gyros are to Greek and döner are to Turks. Layers of meat and fat stacked on a spit and roasted vertically. This fast food meat is shaved from the spit and stuffed into a pita. A variety of vegetables and sauces are added and (in most cases) the pita is folded and rolled.
So here they are from least favourite to my #1 shawarma place in the afore mentioned area. All places were visited at lunch. A beef and chicken shawarma with “Everything” and “Hot” (spicy) were the standard.
~Empire Shawarma~
This hole in the wall place in a strip mall near the corner of Pharmacy does a humming business. The faint smell of curry permeated the place and the din of (what I can only assume is) Lebanese filled the air. There are a few basic tables and chairs and a ledge along the front window.
The volume meant that all the meats were cut fresh from the rotisserie. There was a nice bit of crunch in the meat from the little nubs that get a bit well done. A very nice textural and taste point. The meats had a very faint curry taste but were otherwise simple. The shell is a little smaller than most but the meat content was about the same. They don’t have nearly the same amount of  condiments. The meats dominated the veggies as a result and the tahini and hot sauces added some nice flavour and some requisite messiness. At first I thought the beef was only just okay but the more I ate the more I really enjoyed it. Ditto for the chicken although I “Loved” the beef I only “Really liked” the chicken. I rather enjoyed the meat to veggie ratio.
The drawbacks would be the pita is served clam shell style where I prefer the wrapped style. They don’t grill press their sandwiches either.

~Ibrahim's Shawarma and Halal Pizza~
You would expect the place that has a butcher shop attached to it would have great meat and so it is. Ibrahim’s restaurant arm is renown for their shawarma and other favourites. Home made garlic and hot sauces compliment the meats perfectly. The tiny space has only a few tables and reminds me a bit of a burger joint in it’s appearance.
The meats are the juciest and most flavourful. The crunch from the cabbage and the power of the garlic sauce are all perfect. The heat level is outstanding with their clearly best hot sauce. It’s well rounded out by the hummus and tahini. The actual beef it’s self may be a close second in flavour to Nasib’s but the chicken is superior and the over all package is better than most.
Their shortcoming is that their pitas are so big they end up with a little too much condiment. Not a deal breaker but not exactly the perfect balance of meat to stuffing.
Clearly the best IMHO. The friendly family run establishment has been around since 1962 so they oughta know a thing or two. Everything is made in house and fresh. Emad the owner is all about keeping the customer happy. It also had a brighter cleaner feel than most places.
The pitas are just the right size to allow a perfect balance of meat and toppings. I liked that the chicken and beef were seasoned differently. The chicken was simply seasoned and allowed for a good chicken taste. The beef was the tastiest with it’s Lebanese spicing and slight char. Nasib’s veggie options had an unbelievably fresh taste and equaled only by Ibrahim’s in terms of variety. The garlic sauce was a clear winner here. Mrs. Sippi claims their pickled turnips are the best she’s had.
The only drawback was the hot sauce wasn’t nearly as hot or good as Ibrahim’s. It needs to be ordered extra hot IMHO.
The bottom line here really is that choose any of them and you can’t go wrong. All make a fabulous product but there are subtle differences between them. I will point out a couple of tips. First of all, if you see condiments that look like they belong on a burger or in a sub you’re probably in the wrong place. You want to see cabbage, pickled turnips, tahini and such. Secondly, while still good otherwise, people believe that shawarma is at it’s peak when enough meat has been trimmed from the spit it’s close to half it’s original size. Earlier slices haven’t had enough fat drip on them and later slices have been around a little too long. While it’s all good, that middle third is the sweet spot. Another good tip is to frequent places that as much as possible shave from the spit as it’s ordered. Stay away from the steam tray as it can make the meat very dry.

So there you have it. 

You can find this shawarma lovers heaven on Lawrence Ave. E. in Toronto between Victoria Park Ave and Warden Ave.

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Well that’s all from the food court today folks. I’ll see you again next time.

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