Smile Politely

Naf Naf brings build-your-own Middle Eastern meals to Champaign

Embarrassingly, I had to be introduced to Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill by a friend and his wife visiting from the West Coast. I was all set to impress them with my local knowledge, and he dares make a recommendation in my house? Plus, he’s known as Bad Decision Dave. He assured me that since he started using online reviews, he is now Great Decision Dave. Ok, Dave, impress me.

He says Naf Naf looks great and has good reviews. We agree to go, but I tell him his reputation is on the line, and this place better be good. Spoiler alert: it was good.  

Above a half wall with horizontal wood shiplap, there is a glass sneeze guard above several metal containers on an assembly line. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Naf Naf is a build-your-own bowl or pita restaurant with many different options. I recommend ordering ahead online or by phone, even if you are dining in. This will assure you get exactly what you want from the many options without the pressure of feeling like you are holding up the line. All meals were made to order which really added to the freshness and quality.

There is a choice of a pita or a bowl. Bowl options start with your choice of basmati rice, romaine lettuce, hummus, or couscous. You can add chicken shawarma, steak, or falafel. Top it with cucumber salad, red cabbage, sumac onions, and middle eastern pickles. Sauce options were tahini, garlic, s’khug, and harissa. They also offer lentil soup and Naf Naf fries (house made potato chips).

Inside Naf Naf Champaign, there is a hallway of white walls leading into an empty dining area with white plastic chairs. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

We walk in and a sign says, “Say hello to the new crispy chicken schnitzel!” To which I reply, “Hell yes, I will.” I placed my order and had trouble deciding on the many goodies to add to my schnitzel ($8.55).

On a fast food parchment paper adorned with Naf Naf's logan, there is a chicken schnitzel sandwich, sliced in half. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

I choose the pita option and added cucumber salad, sumac onions, red cabbage, and harissa sauce. The pita was fresh, warm, and a great vessel to hold all this flavor. The schnitzel was made to order and was crispy on the outside with juicy tender chicken on the inside. The onions, cabbage, and salad were a fresh contrast to the savory schnitzel. The harissa was outstanding if you prefer your food on the spicy side. It was large enough to share, but alas it was spicy, so my wife declined my offer. I took one for the team and ate it all.

On a white paper bag, there are four falafel balls beside a small hummus. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

My wife ordered a small hummus ($3.30) and four falafels ($2.00). Their hummus was made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. It was creamy, smooth, and had great flavor. The falafels had chickpeas, jalapeno, and onion — and were deep fried. Don’t let the jalapenos deter you as these were not spicy. The flavors were well balanced and dipping them in the tahini sauce (free) made for a great combo. Watching the staff scoop the falafels and drop them in the frier was an added entertainment bonus as they have an open kitchen, so we saw everything being made.

In a paper lined basket, there is an orange paper cup holding Naf Naf fries. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

The surprise of the visit was the Naf Naf fries ($2.55). Their website described these as hand-cut and coin shaped. Heaven on earth: I love house made chips, and these rival the best I’ve had. Like everything at Naf Naf they were made to order. The chips came out hot, salty, and packed with flavor. My wife did take me up on sharing these, and we heartily enjoyed them.

Photo by Carl Busch.

Lastly, we had a house made pita ($0.90) to dip in the hummus. Normally, I wouldn’t dedicate writing specially about a pita, but these are made fresh and were excellent. They were soft and warm. I enjoyed eating them plain. I also dipped them in both the hummus and tahini sauce. You can also have them stuffed with the many options listed earlier as an entrée.

We enjoyed our visit to Naf Naf with Dave (newly promoted to Great Decision Dave) and his wife so much, we went back a second time. There is something enjoyable and comfortable knowing your food is made to order in an open kitchen. There were so many options that it’s impossible to ever get bored. We look forward to many more visits. I have yet to try the basmati rice, but it looks really good, so it is next on my list. The Naf Naf fries will be ordered on every visit; they are that damn good.

Naf Naf
2502 N Prospect Ave
10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., daily

Top image by Carl Busch.

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