Cheap Eats: Aviva by Kameel

A beacon of flavor in the belly of Peachtree Center Mall

Wednesday July 2, 2014 04:00 am EDT

No three words signify mediocre dining quite like "mall food court." (Unless Subway and Sbarro are your jam, which is cool, too.) It's rare to find a noteworthy meal in these curious urban landscapes; rarer still to find one that you'd actually want to taste again and again. But, tucked away in the depths of Peachtree Center, one Mediterranean eatery defies the food court stereotype. Aviva by Kameel serves up falafel wraps ($6.95), grilled Scottish salmon ($10.95), and towering platters of chicken shawarma ($8.95) to a steady stream of Downtowners who loyally queue up in lines 10- and 20-deep for a taste.

A FAMILY AFFAIR: The eatery is both named for and operated by Kameel Srouji and his sister Aviva. They grew up in Nazareth, Israel, and learned the culinary ropes from their mother. Nowadays, Aviva runs the show in the kitchen, while Kameel posts up at the counter taking orders. He greets each and every customer, often with a bellowing "Hello, my brother!" or "Welcome, gorgeous!" or even an "I love you!" If you're lucky, he'll reinforce his affection by slipping a free, unsolicited falafel or two on your plate. Just be sure to say "I love you" back.

PLATTER UP: While the menu offers a healthy selection of pita wraps, the real magic happens on the "Platters" side of the menu. The amount of food that Kameel heaps onto your plate is staggering, especially when considering the price tag: the garlicky chicken shawarma platter, plus two sides of your choice and a slice of pita, rings up at $8.95. The hand-formed, grilled-to-order patties of lamb kofta ($11.95), drizzled with tahini, are unbelievably juicy. While all of the entrées are intensely flavorful, the sides definitely aren't there to play second fiddle. Fried to a golden crisp in olive oil, the falafel is among the best in Atlanta. Even the healthier options like roasted squash and zucchini, stewed cabbage, and quinoa are packed with flavor.

TO YOUR HEALTH: There's nary a stick of butter in the whole joint — each and every dish is cooked exclusively in olive oil. Kameel prides himself on sourcing strictly hormone-free, halal meat and local produce. With no freezer on site, the kitchen receives fresh produce daily. Meats and veggies are cooked on separate grills, so vegetarians can dig in without fear of carnivorous cross-contamination. And if you really need to counteract all that falafel, the cafe also has a juice bar serving carrot, celery, apple, and even pomegranate juices ($4-$5). No matter how you slice it, this isn't your average food court food.

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