Smile Politely

Feast your heart out at Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant

A cropped photo of the appetizer sampler from Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine on Wright Street on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Until last week, I’d never been to Jerusalem Restaurant Middle Eastern Cuisine on the corner of Wright Street and Healey, but I’d heard a lot of things about the Campustown restaurant. Having now dined at Jerusalem restaurant, I can say the rumors are true. “There’s just one guy running the whole place.” Yep. “You gotta get the fish lunch special.” Absolutely. “The portions are huge for the price!” Mhmm, it all checks out.

Alyssa Buckley

The place has no socials and a very simple website, and the counter service restaurant has a simple, no-frills dining room.


The cafe had sun-bleached walls adorned with art, and a long window ledge (and a few tables, too) housed a plethora of plants. The menu was thumb-tacked to the counter at the back of the restaurant.

Alyssa Buckley

Since this was my first visit, I wanted to try a lot, so I took a very hungry friend. We ordered the vegetarian appetizer platter, a shawarma pita sandwich, a shish kabob plate, and the fish lunch. We knew it would be a lot of food, but we had no idea how much food we were in for.

After we ordered, the line grew quickly, but that’s probably only a problem for spring or fall semesters. The one and only employee — no doubt the owner — took the entire line’s orders and then went back to cooking. When each meal was ready, there was no number called out or buzzer; the guy waved his hand in the general direction of the diner whose meal was ready and made eye contact. After watching a few diners miss this silent signal, I was ready when he waved at us.

Alyssa Buckley

To start, we ordered the #87 vegetarian appetizer platter ($13.99) with hummus, falafel, tabouli, Lebanese salad, baba ganoush, and dolmeh, plus pita bread. Six different bites and two pitas, too? It was a lot of food, but we were down.

The little falafel half-spheres were everything; the dense patties had a crazy-good salty flavor with a nice crumbly texture. The hummus was super smooth and had a great nuttiness from sesame oil. A thick puree of baked eggplant, the baba ganoush had a nutty sesame flavor, too. The dolmeh, or grape leaves stuffed with rice, were super delicate; one bite and the soft wrapper unfurled and out fell flavorful rice, but I scooped it up with pita. Both with similar veggies, the tabouli and Lebanese salad were enjoyable to eat. The restaurant’s tabouli was a very good, zesty salad; the fresh mint tasted excellent with teeny tiny chops of vegetables.

Alyssa Buckley

For my lunch, I ordered the #1, a fish lunch platter ($11.49). Served with veggies, salad, hummus, rice, and pita bread, Jerusalem’s fish dish lived up to the hype. Deserving of top placement on the menu, the boneless fish had super delicious, salty, crispy edges and a flaky middle. The hummus was addicting because of that yummy nuttiness, but the cooked veggies were the standout side. In a tomato sauce, the silky eggplant had a spicy, peppery flavor easily quelled with anything on the tray: rice, lentils, hummus, salad, or a big bite of white fish.

Though the Lebanese salad’s colorful bell peppers, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers didn’t have much seasoning, the salad was a refreshing balance to the warm elements in the lunch. With a nice earthy flavor, the lentils were fine, and the yellow rice was a huge, tasty portion. The lunch was so big that I couldn’t finish it, but I did eat every piece of that awesome fish.

Alyssa Buckley

My friend had the #65: beef and lamb shawarma sandwich ($8.99). It was just a sandwich wrapped in parchment paper on a tray, but it was a hearty sandwich. Slices of seasoned lamb and beef — cooked on a rotisserie — were folded into a warm pita pocket with a few slices of raw onion, tomato, and tahini sauce. The tomatoes and sauce added some moisture to the sandwich, which was good because the meat had a good, charred beef flavor but was a little dry.

Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered the #83: kufta shish kabob plate ($16.99), which had a choice of soup or salad and another choice of rice with veggies or hummus with pita. We went for soup and more rice with veggies. With visible fresh parsley and cilantro throughout, the garlicky beef had a strong herby flavor that tasted really good — better than the shawarma, and the shish kabob went great with everything on the plate: the same rice, veggies, and lentils as the fish dish plus some savory black beans, too. Again, it was so much food, especially for lunch, and ultimately, too much for one sitting. We packaged most of it to go, and thankfully, this (and everything we took home as leftovers) reheated well.

Alyssa Buckley

Lastly and most sadly, the side of soup was not my favorite. I thought it was a little too one-note of just earthiness, and it needed more salt. Next time, I will go for for the salad instead.

For hungry diners in Campustown, Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine is a good spot for a no nonsense filling meal, and there are solid vegetarian options. Don’t walk in expecting formalities or flowery customer service; just expect big portions of great tasting Middle Eastern food. Know your order, say it clearly, and then wait for the guy to wave at you.

Check out the full menu of Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Alyssa Buckley
Alyssa Buckley

Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine
601 S Wright St
M-F 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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