"I have no competition," says Hashalom owner Jacquez Zrihen when asked how he's managed 20 years of success in the tough restaurant industry.
Even if there are some other Israeli-Moroccan restaurants in Chicago (there are), they shouldn't cause much concern. Few can match Zrihen's freshly made hummus or his back story, which includes a secret deliverance, at the age of 16, from Marrakesh to Casablanca to Italy to Spain to Israel to, eventually, Rogers Park.
Start your meal off at Hashalom with some soup: cups cost $1.50 and bowls are $2.25. I recommend the Moroccan vegetable: a bitch's brew of nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper, sweet potato, garbanzo beans, zucchini and carrots.
The idea that some menu items might be superior to others was foreign to the staff, er, family, here. After my naive insistence wore thin, they finally muttered an entree they'd recommend above all else: the lahme ($7.50), a dish of ground spicy lamb cooled in a ring of hummus, with soup/salad and a pickled vegetable teaser. Marry the lahme with the 5-piece crispy falafel appetizer ($2) and it's a perfectly priced, exquisitely spiced square meal. Prices run as low as the $2.50 falafel sandwich or as "high" as the $12 couscous entree with lamb or chicken. End your meal with a 90-cent cup of mint tea (with real mint leaves) or Turkish coffee.
Perhaps it's waking up early every morning to make the day's fresh hummus, or the responsibility of providing natural ingredients and signature entrees with just one kitchen partner (his wife), but Zrihen is a cantankerous man. The only time he warms is when he talks of hummus, his wife or her cooking. With a loitering smile he tells us a little about his wife's signature dish, cholent (a type of stew). "I can barely sleep the night before she makes it. She's like a dream."
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Kate Anderson