Hana House is north Phoenix's new destination for grilled kebabs and stellar appetizers

First Bite: Our critic shares some thoughts about a new (or new to her) restaurant after an informal visit or two.

Andi Berlin
Arizona Republic

"How would you like your filet cooked?"

Now there's a question you don't expect to hear at the front counter of a gyro shop. Especially when the filet mignon is coming to you in a Styrofoam container along with some plastic forks and a water bottle for the road.

But Mohammad Menassera is a detailed server, even though that mostly means running takeout boxes from the kitchen at Hana House Middle Eastern Restaurant to the front counter, which is loaded up with flyers and Arabic-language business cards.

On a recent day, Menassera was tag teaming with his uncle Mustafa Manassra, who opened the restaurant in a lowkey strip mall on Northern Avenue near the I-17. Mustafa is originally from the West Bank of Jerusalem and has been living in the U.S. since the early '90s, with the last 17 years in Arizona.

He opened his first restaurant in January inside the former Los Compadres Mexican restaurant, which had been in business for 34 years until it closed in 2019. The large dining room is the focal point in an eclectic shopping center filled with a Jamaican restaurant, animal ophthalmologist and a liquor store. To make his space special, Mustafa emblazoned the marquee with a photo of his first daughter Hana wearing a traditional Middle Eastern gown complete with a headdress of fabric and gold coins.

Unlike his nephew, who left a managing job at Nordstrom to come work with his family, Mustafa is a no-nonsense kind of guy. But he lit up when he started to talk about Middle Eastern food.

What to expect at Hana House

Even in its early stages, you can tell that Hana House holds itself to a high standard of presentation and quality, with colorful plates of vegetables and meats spiced with brilliant dustings of paprika and sumac.

Meat pies at Hana House Restaurant in Phoenix are rubbed with ground beef on May 5, 2021.

Hana mostly sticks to the standard Middle Eastern dishes like gyro and shawarma that play well in a takeout box. You may have noticed the restaurant on several of the popular delivery apps like Uber Eats, Grubhub and Postmates.

But gorgeous kebabs, grilled over open fire and cooked to order, a juicy medium rare, are the star. Even though your side dishes are basmati rice rather than mashed potatoes, it still felt like splurging at a steakhouse.

Interestingly, Hana House has a huge appetizer menu, with spinach pies and minced beef croquettes and four types of hummus, including one called fattet which is served with the shredded pita bread mixed into the spread. You might consider it a cousin of the famous salad fattoush, which also features pieces of broken pita bread mixed into the vegetables. The two dishes are part of the same family of fattat, which refers to the broken pieces of flatbread.

Hana House also offers some rare Levantine and Egyptian dishes that aren't on the menu, but that you can call ahead for. Their Instagram page features a photo of the massive rice pile called makloobah, which is cooked upside down in layers with fried vegetables and then scattered into a decadent smorgasbord. The Google business page features a mouth-watering plate of koshari, a popular midnight street food in Egypt that's basically macaroni on performance-enhancing drugs, mixed with a flurry of rice and lentils and thick slabs of fried onions.

It's important to note Hana House is also a hookah bar, and carries some interesting flavors like Safari melon dew, Irish peach and Samba lemon mint. But since it's also a community hub, Hana was running a popular Iftar buffet during the month of Ramadan, when observers would break their fast over plates of hummus and tabbouleh and the aforementioned makloobah. Mustafa said that in the future, he'd like to keep the Middle Eastern buffet going during the daily lunch service.

Based on my visit, right now I recommend swinging by for takeout rather than dining in. You'll probably have a better experience, as the empty dining room felt a little drab, and servers weren't wearing masks. My visit this week turned into an impromptu parking lot picnic, with to-go box containers spread out onto the leafy grass of a hilly mound that straddled 23rd Avenue. We'll just call it dining al fresco.

Here's what to order when you go

Savory meat pies and the Hana Special mix plate for one at Hana House Restaurant in Phoenix on May 5, 2021.

Here's what I suggest you get: The Hana Special Mix for 1. (There's also a larger combo plate for two with twice as much meat.) At $19.99, this plate comes with full and half skewers of each of the three kebabs Hana offers.

First there's the chicken, fat pieces that have been rubbed in yogurt and lemon juice with some feisty char marks from the grill. They're not complete until you dip them in the wallopy garlic cream sauce they give you on the side. Wow, does that stuff zing. And zang.

The plate also comes with a skewer of kofta, the Middle Eastern meatloaf kebab that tastes like a spiced hamburger without the bun. Their version is made with ground beef and lamb for extra tenderness, and shaped into a long dense patty that you'll spear with your fork or rip with your fingers.

Last but not least, the high-end model of kebabs, the filet mignon, which was cut into bite-sized pieces that were scattered with parsley. I was supposed to be taking the leftovers home to my family, but I had a hard time not eating all the juicy chunks by myself. The kebabs were paired with an artful side salad and placed over a delicate bed of basmati rice, the grains so long and tender that they reminded me of orzo pasta.

Since they occupy such a large part of the menu, my meal mostly consisted of appetizers: a box of crispy falafel, which had little thumbprints in the middle like a savory chickpea cookie; soft flatbread meat pies called sfeeha that were rubbed with ground beef and pine nuts; and my favorite, the hummus and beef shawarma appetizer, which was stained red with sumac and glistening with olive oil that piled onto the sides of the takeout box.

The shawarma itself was sliced thinly, which almost gave the beef the texture of little sausage strands fried in a pan. But mixed with the chunky hummus, it was pure comfort. The kind of food you rip from the fridge later that night, which I did, using the meat pastries to soak up the hummus. The perfect bite.

The inside of Hana House Restaurant in Phoenix on May 5, 2021.

Hana House Restaurant

Where: 2350 W. Northern Ave., Phoenix.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Price: Appetizers $4.99-$19.99; soups and salads $4.99-$8.99; entrees $14.99-$38.99.

Details: 602-354-3416, hanahouserestaurant.com.