All the meats, Al-Sufara Grills Credit: Kristina Meyer

Thick smoke billows above a Palos Hills strip mall, and it’s only the aroma of sizzling lamb and chicken that silences the reflexive alarms. Friend of the Food Chain Titus Ruscitti recently effused over Al-Sufara Grills, a newcomer to the teeming southwest-suburban Middle Eastern food mecca, an endorsement that put the restaurant right at the top of my priorities. This restaurant/butcher shop is the third in the family of owner Yazan Rashed, which also owns a pair in Amman, Jordan. If you’re a north-sider grieving the decline of similar spots in Albany Park, Palos Hills seems just about as far—but it’s worth the drive.

Live charcoal action, Al-Sufara GrillsCredit: Rob Lopata

In terms of setting Al-Sufara (“The Ambassador”) is the polar opposite of the Disney-esque Al Bawadi in Bridgeview, an establishment invoked more than any other spot in the area. That’s no slight on the latter, but Al-Sufara’s stripped-down interior underlines a deep focus and commitment to what’s really important about this subject. There’s a flat-screen TV broadcasting a live webcam trained on the pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Mecca. There’s a glass display case containing salads to-go and raw kebabs. There are two horizontal shawarma spits spinning over live coals, next to a grill known as a kanoon, a basin also filled with coals, on top of which kebabs, chickens, and lamb chops are grilled. As if that isn’t enough visual stimulation, the whole lambs butchered in-house hang behind a window in the walk-in cooler, waiting for their turn under the blade. 

Shatta, Al-Sufara GrillsCredit: Mike Sula

Rashed welcomes you to specify how you’d like your meats cooked, because the default is well-done, as most of his customers like it. The ground-beef and lamb skewers take to this treatment remarkably well, remaining juicy and vital. Baby lamb chops, chicken on the bone, or chunky lamb or chicken kebabs arrive at the small scattering of tables on mountains of rice, with charred onions, tomatoes, and peppers, and lots of raw onion dusted in tart sumac. This makes for a remarkable feast, particularly when supplemented with an assortment of salads and appetizers, which I’ll get to in a minute. But don’t sleep on the shawarma sandwich if you’re mobile: thickly shaved cone meat enveloped in a loving lavash wrap that protects it from the ravages of time of travel.

Hummus, Al-Sufara GrillsCredit: Mike Sula

What I didn’t expect was the outstanding overall quality of the meze game backing up the meat: the creamy cool hummus and baba ghanoush; the frothy garlic dip toum, like something Ferran Adrià created in the lab; mutabbal, chunky peppers and eggplant enrobed in nutty tahini. The already marvelous nature of these is only enhanced by liberal application of the gratis hot sauce shatta, thick with garlic, carrot, and bright red chile. I’d walk to Palos Height just for a pile of that.

Al-Sufara GrillsCredit: Mike Sula

Al-Sufara Grills, 7215-7217 W. 103rd, Palos Heights, 708-576-8420