Sandwich of the Week: Chicken Shawarma at Houston's Phoenicia Deli

A Lebanese sandwich stands out in a city of fajitas and BBQ.
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Phoenicia Deli Chicken Shawarma

Maryse Chevriere

Phoenicia Deli Chicken Shawarma

Ask me for Houston restaurant recommendations and you'll get cut off mid-sentence: "Lupe Tortilla's beef fajitas! Goode Co. Barbecue's smoked turkey on jalapeño cheese bread! Chicken fried steak!" It comes out in one excited, breathless blurt.

I might have to reconsider that approach.

While I stand by those suggestions, that initial enthusiasm tends to weaken my recommendations that always follow: "But you know, Houston actually has a really great international food scene." Eyebrows raise, but I stand by it because Houston, as a major oil industry hub, is host to an eclectic mix of cultures and cuisines — French, British, Asian, and Middle Eastern in particular. That brings us to another top Houston dining recommendation: chicken shawarma at Phoenicia Deli.

For the uninitiated, shawarma is an Arab wrap sandwich filled with thinly-shaved rotisserie meat, not unlike a gyro. Phoenicia has been making locals fans of the sandwich since 1983, when Lebanese immigrants Arpi and Zohrab Tcholakian opened their deli on Westheimer Road. They recently expanded into a massive gourmet market-grocery across the street where the "world-famous" sandwich is still the main draw.

How could it not be? The vertical spits of stacked marinated chicken breast do a slow circling dance in the open rotisserie oven. Chicken is carved to order, and gets wrapped in thin, crisp, fresh pita with soft, diced potatoes, and slices of tomato. Let's not forget the garlic sauce — glorious gobs of rich, thick garlic sauce. While a lady shouldn't admit to this, you could practically drink the stuff.

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