Lunch Northeast Minneapolis
Only three photos of food appear on the restaurant’s website, and two of them are blurry. On a recent Thursday afternoon, at the height of the lunch rush, not one table was taken. All of those factors should add up to an eatery that’s unpopular for a reason, but instead, it’s mystifying, because Filfillah (or Filfilah, as it’s spelled on its website) turns out to be one of the best — perhaps even the best — purveyors of shawarma in the Cities.
Behind the counter, the large, slowly rotating hunks of meat look glossy and succulent, without the constant fat drip seen at so many gyro places. Filfillah chef Ali Kolcak (below) proudly presents them as if they’re a gift to each customer. “This is the real thing, ” he says. “Never frozen, never. Made fresh every day. I just made these this morning. No one else has shawarma like this.”
Ironically, during this particular lunch hour, a food wholesaler stopped in to pitch Kolcak on the idea of buying frozen, pre-made shawarma in bulk, to be delivered weekly. The chef listened politely, but his arms were crossed in front of him like a Turkish general defending his border.
What he makes is definitely worth the defense. The lamb and beef shawarma, made with techniques and spices that Kolcak used while growing up in Turkey, is rich and flavorful, and surprisingly tender. No grayish, tough gyro experience here: Filfillah eschews the type of fillers that Kolcak believes are too common in the shawarma business, and which make for lackluster meat.
Also fresh is the tahini sauce, served on the side with a plate of shawarma ($11, below), salad, rice pilaf, and pita bread, or doused generously inside the wraps. Although the yogurt-based sauce is easy to make, the cool tartness of Filfillah’s elevates the eatery to yet another level. More extra credit points: The pita is shaped like a calzone, smells like pizza dough, and tastes like buttery happiness.