Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Zaina is just a beak better than Habashi House

Posted by on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 10:45 AM

Zaina takes on Habashi House in this week's Battle of the Dishes.
  • Zaina takes on Habashi House in this week's Battle of the Dishes.

When I called my order in to Zaina (25 East 12th Street) earlier this week, the man who answered asked when I wanted to pick up my sandwich.

"Ten minutes," I suggested.

"No, that's too long. It will all be gone by then. Hurry. Hurry," he said before breaking into laughter.

It's nice to see the to-go service at a restaurant come with a side of humor, but could the Shawarma chicken live up to the hype? That was the question in this week's battle, which pitted Zaina's sandiwch against the chicken gyro at Habashi House (309 Main), in the City Market.

Chicken shawarma, pita, and a side of hummus from Zaina.
  • Chicken shawarma, pita, and a side of hummus from Zaina.

Zaina -- chicken Shawarma ($6.95). This is a juicy sandwich. Have napkins at the ready. Tender chunks of chicken sit under a pile of slow-cooked onions, tomatoes and tahini. The pita is soft with garlic and onion juices, and you'll need a fork and knife by the end. The hummus is bright with lemon and hot sauce.  

The chicken gyro, pita and hummus from Habashi House.
  • The chicken gyro, pita and hummus from Habashi House.
Habashi House -- chicken gyro ($4.95). This is a dense little pita packed with strong flavors and shredded chicken. Caramelized onions and tzatsiki sauce give a bit of sweetness to balance the abundant cumin, the spice that gives the chicken gyro a peppery pop. The hummus is smooth and creamy and pleasantly garlicky, with a little pop of spice from paprika sprinkled on top.

The Verdict -- Zaina was slightly better, an edge earned by the tender chicken and the slow-cooked onions. But I still managed to polish off the entirety of both pita pockets and the accompanying hummus. Habashi House has lower prices and a more manageable portion size, but Zaina's hummus offers a bit more heat and lemon (which is decidely a personal preference). Ultimately, a winner has to be chosen, but this is one battle where both contestants deserve your lunch dollars. 

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