CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
A mix grill dish at Rosewater Middle Eastern Grill in Downtown Pittsburgh
Earlier this year, the Qdoba on Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh was replaced with Rosewater Middle Eastern Grill. Not to tarnish the fast-casual Mexican-food chain too much, but this change is a serious upgrade for Downtown’s food scene.
Rosewater is everything a Downtown diner needs. It’s relatively quick, affordable, and the menu has a wide variety. As the name suggests, the menu is Middle Eastern and it covers most of the region. The menu showcases this regional diversity with staples like tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, and kibbeh meat pies, but it also serves dishes that are more specific to styles popular in the Levant region.
While the specific regional dishes are a delight, the main reason to eat at Rosewater is for the restaurant's signature bowls.
When I think of Middle Eastern fast food, I think gyros, doner kebab, and other handhelds stuffed with meat, salad, and dressing. While those are delicious, they can be a bit hefty. But like many fast-casual restaurants these days, Rosewater has created bowls that have all the Middle Eastern flavors people love, but without the heaviness.
I tried the chicken shawarma bowl and the falafel bowl. Each comes with the protein served over rice and salad, and sauce on top.
The chicken shawarma — which is sliced from a big cone of meat spinning on a rotating grill — is thinly sliced, but still juicy with a wonderful char that adds some bitterness. I sampled the meat on its own, and it would make a good meal by itself. It tastes like it is marinated, maybe in a citrus blend with subtle spice.
The bowl works just as you would expect. The chicken shawarma’s flavor and richness up top, followed by crunch and freshness underneath from a salad mix of lettuce and tomatoes, and a thick bed of rice to hold it all together. The perfectly cooked basmati rice has a slight nutty flavor, but is still light. Everything is covered artistically in a creamy garlic sauce, and the bowl is surprisingly refreshing.
The falafel bowl is much the same, except there are four freshly fried falafel arranged on top and everything is covered in a Tzatziki sauce, instead of garlic. The falafels look fairly dense, but they are light and crumbly in the middle.
This bowl also has all the enjoyable contrasts of the chicken shawarma dish, but without the char. If you are looking for that, but still want to keep it vegetarian, throw in some grilled veggies.
Rosewater’s grilled veggies — zucchini, onion, and bell pepper — are sublime. I ordered a side of them, and they were the best grilled veggies I have ever had.
A bowl is more than enough to fill you up, but don’t skimp on trying some of Rosewater’s excellent appetizers and desserts.
The grilled beef kibbeh is filled with well-spiced and juicy ground beef, just loaded with flavor. Ground beef is mixed with spices, pine nuts, onion, and possibly some raisins, and surrounded by an earthy wheat mixture. All of it is heated up on the grill, and it has distinctive black char marks. Meaty, filling, with a touch of sweetness.
I finished the meal off with Kunafa, a dessert made from shredded filo dough and a mild white cheese underneath, covered in a sweet syrup.
The Kunafa comes in two styles, one mild and the other, a bit herby. Both are just a tad sweet, and chewy. I have never had anything like them, and they are both worth a sample, just like everything at Rosewater.
Add this place to your Downtown lunch (and dinner) rotation, they are open until 8:30 p.m. every night except Sunday.
Rosewater Middle Eastern Grill. 808 Liberty Ave., Downtown. rosewaterpgh.com