Restaurant review: Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill's customizable bowls a welcome addition to the Far West Side
Over the past several years, a slew of new eateries has premiered specializing in the same kind of meals: customizable bowls. This apparently here-to-stay trend isn’t really so surprising.
After all, many of us have become technology-tethered creatures accustomed to summoning whatever we want to watch, listen to and read. Doesn’t it stand to reason that this modern impulse to actively shape experiences would extend to ordering in a restaurant?
As anyone who’s been in a branch of Chipotle can attest, there are business-minded benefits to featuring an assembly-line cuisine: It doesn't require a large staff or extreme overhead costs, and it generally means relatively fast and inexpensive customer visits.
Enter new Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill. Located in a strip mall on the Far West Side (near Hilliard), Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill occupies a modern, notably spotless and simple but upbeat space with welcoming green and wooden accents, plus super-friendly counter service.
Zaytoon means “olive” in Arabic. While olives aren’t prominently featured, good ones are available as add-ons to price-setting bowl bases that include a decent salad ($8.95); loose, flavorful and very nice saffron basmati rice ($8.95); warm pita bread ($6.95); and excellent hummus ($9.50).
The eatery offers four entree stars to grace these bases, and each has its draws: fragrant, crisp, first-rate falafel; mostly tender chicken shawarma slices with a mild, curry-style flavor; griddled, zestily spiced (with paprika in the lead) chicken gyro hunks; and standard gyro meat.
The best combinations are made by partnering Zaytoon’s good-on-its-own rice or its impressively balanced, creamy-yet-textured hummus with its terrific falafel or either of its fine chicken options, which arrived generously applied.
If you have a hankering for a massive gyro — I occasionally do — Zaytoon can gratifyingly scratch that itch. The restaurant preps its spit-roasted gyro log by carving off hefty pieces that are stored in a bath of warm juices, so the lamb-and-beef loaf that’s served lacks an exterior sear. This isn’t a deal breaker, especially if you enjoy plenty of meat and over-the-top free toppings.
Zaytoon’s gratis garnishes include (take a deep breath): beet-red, aggressively pickled cabbage; peeled cucumber cubes; diced tomatoes; onion slivers; lettuce; banana peppers; chunky pickles; and house tzatziki so rich it’s like tartar sauce with oregano replacing minced pickles.
That tzatziki is part of a winning team of bold house-made sauces that variously star tahini, garlic, chili, yogurt and sumac (an almost citrusy and criminally underused spice). Note: Renowned shirt-spotting types like me can appreciate that Zaytoon presents its heaving pita sandwiches in the safety net of a compostable bowl.
The eatery’s non-bowl items merit attention, too. Its inhalable hummus does double duty as one of several delicious dips sold as appetizers ($5.99 each; served with pita). The roster also includes a vibrant and dynamic Baba Ghanoosh that’s tempting to eat with a spoon; addictive and accurately titled Spicy Feta (the Mediterranean answer to pimiento cheese); plus the tangy and creamy-yet-refreshing Cucumber Yogurt.
Several of Zaytoon’s sides, such as its fun Greek Fries ($5.99) — crispy spuds enhanced by seasoned flour, feta, banana peppers and tzatziki — can function as appetizers, too.
This category comprises a couple of oil-baptized sides that, although a tad greasy, I liked even more than those flavorful potatoes: Kebbeh ($2.99), a crunchy, football-shaped shell of cracked wheat packed with seasoned ground beef and sauteed onions; and the Sambosek ($1.95), a savory pastry interchangeable with an Indian samosa filled with quite spicy peas and potatoes.
Serial customizers (and we know who we are) can personalize the enjoyment of such treats by playing a mix-and-match game with Zaytoon's robust dips and sauces.
Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill
5450 Westpointe Plaza Dr., Far West Side