With so many the new restaurants opening on the University of Illinois campus every year, it is hard to keep track of them all. For instance, I knew Mary Ann’s diner on Gregory Street closed but had no idea a business had already moved in.
Visiting Dubai Grill for the first time, it retains a lot of the diner styling that was Mary Ann’s signature, but the new restaurant has adjusted the layout and decorations just enough to give the place its own vibe.
Although there is fewer seating than before, there is still plenty of places inside to eat as well as picnic tables across the street by the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Plus, it feels less cramped inside now.
Warmly greeted when I entered, I enjoyed the smell of freshly made Middle Eastern food while waiting for the last of my meal (ordered ahead of time) to finish.
Once my fresh cup of chai karak ($2) was ready, I made my way over to the previously mentioned picnic tables to sip my drink and set down my meal. Made with black tea, evaporated milk, and spices, I tried not to burn my mouth as I sipped since it was served piping hot. If you like chai tea, this version was quite refreshingly spiced with the milk cutting into the flavor intensity just a bit. Chai karak is a nice, smooth drink to accompany anything you order from Dubai Grill.
For my appetizer, I went with kibbeh ($8.99). Totally new to me, I enjoyed trying this savory snack for the first time. Kibbeh were just as filling as I expected since they’re made of wheat dough around ground beef, onions, and nuts. Each one also had a slight aftertaste of an unknown spice that I appreciated, too. A great snack since the four kibbeh are rather large, I do wish I had a sauce to dip them into because they were a little drier than I anticipated once I finish the fourth one in a row.
For my main course, I ordered beef shawarma in pita bread ($8.99). Filled with onion, tomato, and tahini sauce in addition to the beef, this was a solid pita sandwich. Not too messy or overstuffed, this comfortably fit in my hand. Nothing too fancy, this is a safe choice if you’re unsure how much you’ll enjoy the other foods at Dubai Grill. It’s hard to go wrong with a soft pita stuffed with whatever you want.
To wrap it all up, I took time savoring a sweet, syrupy piece of baklava ($1.50). Sweet and very nutty, thanks to the pistachios, the many layers of phyllo pastry and ample syrup make this the perfect sweet dessert for nut lovers. Positively glistening with syrup, the baklava at Dubai Grill was crunchy and flaky on the top and had edges with a dense, syrupy bottom. The only downside to the baklava was once I took a bite, it was hard to stop and save any of the rest for later — or share. If you’ve never had baklava before, Dubai Grill is a great place to change that.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this trip to Dubai Grill. With Middle Eastern restaurants not especially common in Champaign-Urbana, I know I’ll be back to try foods I missed on this first trip. Affordable and made with care, Dubai Grill is worth the trip to campus for those who don’t often make it and a strong recommendation for anyone who is at U of I regularly. Stop on by — and don’t forget to order dessert.
Photo by Matthew Macomber.
701 S Gregory St
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily
Top image by Matthew Macomber.