Amidst all of the hoopla of the recent pizza wars and burger-mania, it is easy to forget that, just a few years back, was the burrito-splosion of the mid 2000’s. For a while, it seemed like every strip mall in Atlanta was opening some sort of fast/casual burrito joint, and every young professional in the city was more than happy to stand in line for half of their lunch break to get their hands on one. Slap a goatee and some flannel onto Moe or Willy and they might as well have been slinging lattés for Starbucks during the Clinton years.
Though the tidal wave of burrito franchises left its high-water mark years ago, the market saturation that Chipotle/Willy’s/Moe’s/Barbarito’s/Qdoba’s/Baja Fresh/Salsarita’s left behind still holds strong today.
Why? Because we f’ing love burritos. They are tasty, fast, and they make us feel like we aren’t clogging our arteries, despite the fact that a properly loaded Homewrecker can shave years off our lives.
So what is a budding burrito entrepreneur to do when your competitors are easier to find than a Waffle House?
Make it weird, but make it good. Make it memorable.
Enter The Skeik Burritos n Kabobs. Jahan Ostad opened this half Persian, half southwest-style burrito joint in an unassuming strip mall at near Cheshire Bridge and Piedmont less than a year ago. Drawing from the Persian cuisine of his childhood and the southwestern burritos that he grew to love during his college years at Arizona State University, Ostad has succeeded in making a burrito that actually stands out amongst the crowd.
Ostad crafted his restaurant with an admirable fearlessness of being cheesy. From the name of the restaurant (Sheik….Chic…get it?!?) to the tongue-in-cheek menu choices, such as La Dirka Dirka and the El Bandido-Border Patrol, to the fantastically ballsy mural adorning the wall.
What screams Persian/Southwestern fusion cuisine more than some T&A and a jet ski?
Right next to that masterpiece is the scene featuring Sheiks grilling kabobs on a scimitar, a few Rolls Royce’s, a sexy genie, and multiple curvaceous belly-dancer types getting their burrito on.
Bravo Johan. Bravo.
Ostad, by the way, is a very hands-on owner. This could be off-putting to those that just want to keep their head down, eat their food, and be on their merry. But I’m a bit of an extrovert, and since my identity as a blogger is something I try to keep under wraps, I rarely get the chance to actually engage with the proprietor. He is very enthusiastic, and wants to make sure that you are enjoying everything that he serves, and I respect that.
Now, onto the food.
The hook at Sheik Burritos and Kabobs is essentially burritos packed with traditional Persian flavors and ingredients, all the way down to the option of a Persona flatbread wrap instead of a flour tortilla. Also worth noting, is their focus on all natural/local/free range ingredients, including Georgia Berkshire pork tenderloin and grass fed beef. Unlike many of my reviews, I’ve visited The Sheik about four times before rendering judgment. Fortunately, I never once hesitated to go back.
I’m a big advocate of “can’t get this anywhere else” kinda places. With the homogenization of so much of the restaurant industry, it always pays off to go out of my way to get something different. Different is a great thing, but it is meaningless if the quality of food isn’t up to snuff.
On one of my early visits, I started things off with the Sun Devil Beets.
This is an absolutely gorgeous bowl of maroon and gold beets, topped with goat cheese. While easy on the eyes, there isn’t much going on here other than fresh beets….so you better like beets, or this one isn’t for you. But I found it a refreshing way to start the meal.
Next up I had the El Kosher-Halal, comprised of Berkshire pork, Bad-Man-Jon (Spicy eggplant w/ lentils and tomatoes), rice, yogurt, and the Sheik’s Salad (Romaine, golden raisins, granny smith apples, pistachios, mint, parmesan, and a tangy vinaigrette). As you can tell, there is a lot going on in this one.
I thought the flavor on this was great, but the pork was a little dry. I can’t fault them TOO much for that, as I am no stranger to the ease with which pork tenderloin can dry out. But it was still only just good when it could have been great.
My better half, however, ordered La Camelback, which features locally raised chicken breast, their Feast-n-June sauce (Slightly sweet pomegranate and ground walnuts with julienned carrots), Shirazi (tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, mint, citrus and olive oil), rice, and yogurt.
I have nothing but good things to say about La Camelback. The sweetness of the Feast-n-June was delightful, the chicken was juicy, and the hint of mint and citrus was refreshing. I left with a full-blown case of order envy.
In my later visits, I sampled the El Bandido Border Patrol. The Bandido sauce, which is a mixture of hot peppers and mushrooms, gives it a great kick, which the cool yogurt immediately soothes. This is another that I would recommend.
On my most recent trip, I noticed that Ostad has finally reorganized his previously confusing menu setup, and added a few new items. I tried two of them and enjoyed them both. The first was a spicier version of their Chic dip, called the Chicote dip. This is essentially an eggplant dip with a little hot sauce mixed in, and it was excellent.
And for my burrito, I went with another new entry, the La Muka Manley. This is essentially a Persian hamburger, with a grass fed ground beef patty, ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles, and parsley.
The patty was cooked to a beautiful medium (And I was impressed that they actually asked me how I wanted it cooked….are you listening Farm Burger?!) and you could really taste the quality of the meat. The pickles had to have been homemade, as the brine was too light and crisp to have been mass-produced. If it wasn’t homemade, it tasted like it was, and I thought that the pickles n parsley really elevated the whole dish.
While I wouldn’t tell you that this is going to be the best burrito that you have ever put in your mouth, I still highly encourage you to go check these guys out. Ostad is doing something that the Atlanta burrito market has desperately needed for years….something DIFFERENT. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors are unique, and the food is satisfying. Though the prices are a little higher than you would pay at a franchised cookie-cutter burrito joint, you get what you pay for.
I will happily drive past four Chipotle’s to get here, and you should do the same.
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