When I first heard about the Lebanese restaurant Al-Khayameih, I had trouble finding it online. The person who recommended it to me wrote “Al-Kayam” on a slip of paper. When I googled that name, I found a few references but no official-looking sites. I tried a few different spellings and found results under “Al-Khayyam,” “Al-Khayam” and “Al-Khayameih.” When I finally went to the restaurant, the awning said “Al-Khayameih,” the menu said “Al-Khaymeih” and the neighboring Middle Eastern grocery store was labeled “Al-Khayam.” The fact that these conflicting transliterations of the Arabic name were apparently never unified under one consistent spelling probably creates some marketing challenges for the restaurant and store, but neither seem to lack for devotees. Empanada Boy and I joined the fan club after tasting the baba ghanouj (baba ghanoush, baba ganouj) pictured here.
Since moving to Chicago, Empanada Boy has remarked on the surprising lack of good falafel stands, at least compared to those he enjoyed as a student in New York City. While it’s true that Chicago has almost nothing in the way of stands, the falafel at Al-Khayameih is exceptional. It has a perfect, crisp shell and an interior that’s soft and not too heavy. I ordered a plate of it, accompanied by bright, vibrant stuffed grape leaves, tahini and yogurt sauce. The pita was also fresh and warm from the oven at the bakery and grocery next door.
A vegetarian could go wild at Al-Khayameih, but in many ways, this place is about the meat. The menu includes everything from kababs to kibbie to roasted cornish game hens and seafood. Still yearning for the stands of his New York days, Empanada Boy ordered the shwarma (shawarma, chwarma, shuarma, etc.) platter. It came with a massive pile of lemon-drenched meat (probably goat or lamb) cut straight off the skewer turning in the open kitchen. There was also rice, tahini and a traditional salad of lightly dressed cucumber, tomato, parsley and onion. There was enough food for three people on that plate!
We ate until we could eat no more, except, of course, dessert. After paying the bill, we went to the bakery next door. Along with some pita and a few other Middle Eastern items, we chose two baklava from among the numerous shapes and sizes available in the case. These were coated in crunchy pistachio, and their honeyed, flaky layers melted in my mouth like the mass of butter they were undoubtedly made with. After a great meal, the question of how to spell the restaurant’s name is rendered unimportant. Al-Khayameih by any other name would taste just as good.
4748 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
Wine Note: Al-Khayameih is BYOB. Try bringing a fruity red wine from Southern France or the 2005 Massaya “Classic,” from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.