Does Karam Give West 40s Halal Carts A Run For Their Money?

I stumbled on Karam the other day while walking down 45th Street between 5th and 6th and I have to admit, I was impressed off the bat. Without having tasted the food at all, I was pretty surprised just to see that a brick and mortar Middle Eastern shop could survive in an area with just so many halal carts. Sure, Karam, formerly Bread and Olive, is Lebanese and skews toward the higher end, but there are no less than half a dozen carts within a block, including Biryani Cart, Kwik Meal and Moishe’s. The fact that Karam was there and seemed to be doing well was confirmation enough that I ought to give it a try.

Walking in, I started to see what makes Karam stand out from food carts selling similar cuisine. The counter is full of Mediterranean dishes and along the back wall, two spits roast chicken and beef shwarmas — not gyro meat.

On my first visit, I ordered the Lahme Meshwi sandwich ($10). An upgrade to the cart souvlaki, grilled, skewered lamb chunks are splayed open and heated on the griddle then wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomato, tahini and hot sauce.

It’s a decent size for the price and certainly for the quality of ingredients. My one complaint is that the pita isn’t as soft as I’d like. It’s a different style from the various kinds I’ve had before — it’s more firm than I’d prefer … not really my thing. Still, I enjoyed the filling and was excited to try the shwarma on a future visit.

A long time drunk food favorite of mine, it’s been ages since I’ve had a proper shwarma. The last good midtown version I’ve had was from the dear departed Sahara Grill on 40th & 7th, but they’ve been closed for years. At Karam, the spit of roasted meat wasnt quite as layered as some of my favorites, but it still looks good and i was pretty curious.

The meat was good — moist, with crisped edges and the addition of a smokey harissa and a little tahini on the side certainly help. It still wasn’t quite right though. That tough pita just doesn’t do it for me.

I don’t usually get desserts, but the display of Lebanese cookies, baklava and other treats catch my eye every time I’m at Karam. I’ve enjoyed the baklava ($2.50) so much that I never remember to take a photo of it. This date-filled cookie was another story. Scented with what my co-workers guessed must be rosewater, my initial bite made me think of nothing so much as soap. After a few minutes, I adjusted to the flavor, but I can’t say it was something I’d order again.

I was drawn into Karam by the sandwiches available, but there is a good deal of other options available that require further investigation. That includes the display case full of a variety of vegetarian side options that are sold in combinations of 3 for $6 and 5 for $10 or individually in 8oz containers for $5. Also, in the back, a brick oven bakes small Mediterranean pizzas. Toppings range from mozzarella and romano cheese ($6) to zaatar with vegetables ($6) to ground beef and lamb ($7). It sound very interesting and will have me returning to try out more for a good long time.

The + (What someone who likes this place would say)

  • Real shwarma roasting on a spit is a beautiful thing.
  • I’m a vegetarian and love all these meatless options.

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • The pita bread ruins the sandwiches.
  • Dude, what’s in this cookie?


  • I’ve been to Karam several times recently and had the same reaction to the pita. Is it just the grilling, or is the bread different? Is it a regional thing? The meat and other ingredients are so good, though, that I’m able to overlook it. Still, I think I’d like to try the shwarma with the pita I’m accustomed to.

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    I’m a big fan of Karam and have been frequenting it for some time now. I have no objections to the pita bread because it does a great job holding the sandwiches together. Plus, unlike most Middle Eastern places I’ve been to, they have whole wheat pita in addition to the regular pita. I really appreciate that option. I can vouch for the delicious vegetarian options, which I usually get (falafel and any one of the pastries like spinach and feta count as one of your choices).

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    I have been wondering this but, is it ok to give a +/- to a place where you only tried like 2 things? I mean, you are only really reviewing your lunch rather than the place, as a whole.

  • I kind of agree with @5DQ. I’m also confused because in the plus section, you said you’re a vegetarian, but you tried the lamb? Unless you’re taking what’s in the parantheses literally. Still silly since you didn’t try a veggie meal.
    There’s also other inconsitancies. The article is written like it’s the first visit (“I stumbled on…the other day”) yet the desserts catch your eye “every time”…

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    This place makes a sandwich I love, Labne and Zaatar with Vegetables. It’s made with their zaatar bread, which I think is different from the pita bread that people are complaining about. I also go there for the 3-veggie combo (usually getting the tabbouleh, cabbage salad, and moudardara–cheap, healthy, and a good alternative when you want something green and have had enough of salad bars). Personally, I find the baklava there a little dry, but I know people who like it. They have an interesting selection of a few different types of lokum, sold as loose, wrapped pieces.

  • @5DQ & @Username303: The +/- has always been about what ‘someone’ who likes or dislikes the place would say, not necessarily what the writer of the post would say.

    The point was that there are a number of veggie options available, something not a lot of ML places have.

  • I like the chicken shish touk sandwich here. Nothing wrong with the bread, other than relative authenticity. Also, while there’s chili paste and delicious garlic sauce, to my knowledge, the only “Harissa” in Lebanon is a mountain village. It’d be great to resist the urge to group various swaths of cuisine from North Africa (harissa) to Bangladesh (Biryani Cart) together.

  • As soon as I walked in I knew I had been there before. I think the last time I was there it was Bread & Olive.

    I had the beef shawarma. I thought it was a bit tough, especially compared to the good shawarma places around. I’d have to try their chicken shawarma to compare it to Omar’s. The beef shawarma was so unimpressive that I don’t think I’ll bother.

    They don’t serve french fries at this place even though they have a fryer. That was disappointing.

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