Review: Hamtramck’s Yemeni sandwich maker Hello Shawarma stacks ‘Shower Burgers’ and shawarma burritos

Feb 27, 2019 at 1:00 am
A “shower burger” — named after an amusing misspelling of “shawarma burger” that stuck.
A “shower burger” — named after an amusing misspelling of “shawarma burger” that stuck. Tom Perkins

One of the best perks of living in Hamtramck are the killer sandwiches made by Yemeni immigrants, who fuse Middle Eastern and "American" ingredients and condiments. It's something that we've seen more of in recent years with restaurants like Boostan, Fantastic Subs, and others. What they've discovered is that cheese is really good on a chicken shawarma sandwich. So is ranch, and hot sauce, too.

Hello Shawarma — a Yemeni-owned carryout restaurant that rolls sandwiches in a small space next door to Walter's Party Store in Hamtramck's northeast corner — even gets into what's sort of "Mexican" turf with the shawarma burrito: a package consisting of a flour tortilla wrapped around shaved-from-the-spit beef or chicken shawarma, a mix of cheeses, lettuce, tomato, onion, and "Hello sauce," the latter of which is a mix of garlic sauce, mayo, and herbs.

Exhibit B is Hello Shawarma's Shower Burger, which doesn't hold a beef patty, but moist, small chicken shawarma shavings piled between round sesame seed buns with lettuce, tomato, onion, melted shredded cheddar cheese, and Hello sauce. Why is it called a "Shower Burger?" Owner Al-Hareth Malik says it was supposed to be called a "shawarma burger," but the company that made the sign accidentally wrote "shower." Malik and his crew thought it was funny, so here we are.

The excellent shawarma burritos and Shower Burgers don't exactly hold the flavor profiles of a Michelin-starred restaurant, which is partly why Hello Shawarma is the type of unassuming place that the food media might overlook. It's also off the beaten path, and its clientele is largely those living in the dense surrounding neighborhoods in Hamtramck and Detroit's Banglatown.

Many of Hello Shawarma's dishes are Middle Eastern fare that metro Detroit knows, and it does the standards well, but it's at its best in sandwiches like the saj shawarma. Saj is actually a common plate in parts of the Middle East that holds good and greasy meat that's rolled in a flour tortilla with potato chips, pickles, and garlic sauce. It's traditionally made with a thin, chewy bread, but Hello Shawarma substitutes a flour tortilla. Indeed, it tastes like a shawarma with potato chips on it, and that's a pretty good thing.

The chicken cream chop sandwich isn't unfamiliar, but the thick coating of ranch to go with its breaded chicken, lettuce, and tomato enhances the package. Even the Hello beef shawarma and Hello chicken shawarma sandwiches stand apart from the usual shawarma sandwiches. The former comes with beef heavily dusted with cumin, that's wrapped in a pita with onions, tomatoes, pickles, parsley, and tahini. The chicken shawarma's bird is rolled with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, parsley and Hello sauce. Those not looking for meat will find a falafel sandwich that's flavorful, though it's more like a standard issue falafel.

The sandwiches are only part of Hello Shawarma's menu, but there's a similar formula in the N.Y.-style gyro plate, which is a version of a common New York street food. Those of you who are also thrilled and proud that Hamtramck is the undisputed N.Y.-style gyro capital of the upper Midwest will want to know that Hello Shawarma's N.Y.-style gyros are made with hunks of gyro meat instead of ground chicken and beef, or shawarma meat, as the city's other NY-style gyro parlors do it. The rest of the package is standard — a bed of yellow rice with thick layers of lettuce, tomato, onions, meat, sriracha sauce, and house made ranch.

Hello Shawarma's sauteed lamb dish is filled with salty hunks of tender and slightly chewy lamb among slices of mushroom and onions and a very detectable presence of garlic and cilantro. That's all served with a bed of basmati rice. The deboned chicken is probably the best value on the menu — a mountain of basmati rice and five or six big hunks of charred chicken arrive in a tray with grilled hunks of red pepper, carrots, and zucchini. The bird was a little dry but super flavorful after cooking in either a mix of cumin coriander, clove, cardamom and other spices, or garlic paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

The sides and appetizers are the usual Middle Eastern restaurant plates, and the fattoush and vegetarian grape leaves do their job. The mojadara is a thick, dark brown mix of lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. Hello Shawarma also makes a long list of smoothies, which are solid.

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