Middle Eastern Explorations in Albany Park

Sometimes I need a break from going downtown just about every day. Our office is in the Loop and many of our tours, too. In order to build a tour business, and not just a tour hobby, one has to start where the visitors are – both from afar and from the suburbs. Chicago Detours hopes to soon create events and tours in neighborhoods, which is especially where my own love for Chicago is rooted: Albany Park.Albany Park Middle Eastern food

Albany Park History and Community

I became familiar with Albany Park, a neighborhood on the Northwest side, a few years ago when I taught video production classes through a great youth media organization called Community TV Network. Teaching at high schools brought me to explore Chicago neighborhoods on all three sides of the city. At Roosevelt High School in Albany Park, I taught youth how to make videos with an After School Matters Program. Before and after class I wandered the neighborhood, and discovered firsthand how this neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the country (which is partly measured by the number of languages spoken in the home).

The ethnic diversity of the Albany Park community surfaces – of course – in the variety of food available there. With significant populations of Guatemalans, Mexicans, Indians, Cambodians, Somalians, and Eastern Europeans, the options are plentiful. The food of one region of the world in particular has received the attention of my taste buds whenever I am in Albany Park – the Middle East.

Albany Park Middle Eastern food

Middle Eastern Dining in Albany Park

Residents here hail from all over the Fertile Crescent and beyond, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Jordan. I took the picture, of the olives and turnips, while dining at Salam. This restaurant is on Kedzie, just south of the Brown Line station. Salam, which literally means “peace” and is used as a greeting in Arabic, used to be just one stark, florescent-lit narrow storefront with a fryer and a grill, and a few guys behind the counter serving quick, fresh, cheap falafel and super creamy hummus. Now they’re moving up, with slick new menus, a double-wide space, giant photos of impressive Middle Eastern architecture, and more fitting prices considering the great quality of the food.

I can never decide on anything, so I always convince my guest to split several things. We’ll get a kifta sandwich, stuffed with grilled lamb and beef, which is ground with fresh spices and pressed into a sausage-shape and drizzled with tahini sauce. Then we’ll get a plate of very fresh baba ganoush or hummus, a couple falafels straight out of the fryer (just the fried chickpea balls themselves, not in sandwich form), and a plate of tabouleh. They always give you a plate of olives with pickled turnips, too. I’ve asked people why they dye them that color, using beet root, and no one seems to know. Maybe they look too funky otherwise? Or should I say, not funky enough?

Grocery Shopping Options

I like to fuel up at Salam, and then hit the markets. The Lebanese-owned Al-Khyam market has meats, cheeses and many isles of teas, spices, grains, and interesting kitchen devices.  I recommend heading to the deli counter for fresh feta and really reasonably priced olives. Consider the dairy isle for labneh. This kefir cheese, great to dip pita in, is heaven when drenched in olive oil. I like to bastardize it with preserves and almonds for breakfast sometimes, and I’ve made some killer cheesecakes with it.

Albany Park Middle Eastern foodAnother treat at Al-Khyam is halawa, a ground almond sweet, and not just little bars of it as you usually find it, but bucket loads!

Albany Park Middle Eastern foodThe bakery inside the market may seem tempting, especially with the ingredients just exposed out in the open for all, but hold off for the top notch quality sweets at Jaafer Bakery.

Albany Park Middle Eastern food

Pictured here is Jaafer Sweets co-owner Hannah inside this beautiful bakery. Only in my wildest dreams could there be a baklava that includes walnuts, pistachio, almond, cashew and pine nuts. But they have such a thing here. They even have a deliciously smoky and dark chocolate baklava.Albany Park Middle Eastern food

Albany Park Middle Eastern foodBeyond these treats here, they also have some specialties not on display. They bake kenafeh on the spot, a shredded filo dough pastry with sweetened cheese and rose water. And I’m thinking of throwing a party some day just to take advantage of their catering menu, which includes whole turkey or whole lamb (yes an entire lamb) stuffed with rice and spices, and all kinds of amazing side dishes.

Albany Park Middle Eastern foodIt always surprises me that many Chicagoans aren’t familiar with Albany Park. It’s easy to get there on the brown line, and for a Logan Square resident such as myself, it’s just a 10-to-15-minute bike ride away. And I’m quite sure that I’ve barely scratched the surface. So the real question about Albany Park is – should we have a tour there?

— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director

4636 N Kedzie (just south of the Brown Line, between Montrose and Lawrence)

Al-Khyam Bakery & Grocery
4738 N Kedzie (just north of the Brown Line, Montrose and Lawrence)

Jaafer Bakery
4825 N. Kedzie (just north of Lawrence)


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

be a



Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!