A few blocks west of Damen Avenue in a quiet stretch of North Avenue — just out of earshot of the elevated Blue Line — a gold onion dome rises from an otherwise unassuming brick storefront. It’s Sultan’s Market, a stop along Chicago Food Planet’s 3-1-Chew Food Experience (previously called Bucktown/Wicker Park food tasting and cultural walking tour), an award-winning palace of traditional Middle Eastern foods where you’re guaranteed to eat like a king.
The gold-domed entrance to Sultan’s Market
Sultan’s Market, open since 1995, is a family affair, owned by May and Shadi Ramli, who moved to Chicago from Jordan in the mid-’80s. They started out selling meatball sandwiches and Polish sausages — it’s what they thought the neighborhood wanted — but after just one taste of the May’s homemade hummus, locals were hooked, and Sultan’s Market began its transformation to what it is today. Today, it’s a vegetarian’s paradise (though the menu is full of kefta, kebabs and shawerma for the carnivores among us), and it’s Bucktown/Wicker Park budget dining at its best — just far enough off the beaten path of the Six Corners intersection that you’ve got to be in the know to happen upon it.
Sultan’s Market’s signature dish: the falafel sandwich
On the 3-1-Chew Neighborhood Food Experience (Bucktown/Wicker Park), participants are treated to Sultan’s signature dish: the falafel sandwich, one of the best in Chicago. Fried crispy on the outside and a lush, steaming herbal green on the inside, these puppies are packed into a pita pocket with hummus and hot sauce, then topped with Jerusalem salad, a cool mixture of cucumber, tomato, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini. (Emily, who blogs over at Sugar Plum, recently took our tour and snapped a photo of a sandwich so chock full of toppings, you can’t even see the falafel!) The sandwich is perfectly filling and fits in the palm of your hand.
The salad bar at Sultan’s Market
But don’t let the fast and furious falafel-sandwich-making whiz kids distract you from the amazing salad bar behind you. You’ll find grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices, tabbouleh salad, a bunch of different kinds of olives, marinated vegetables and more — a room full of healthy, delicious Middle Eastern items available by the pound.
On a cool day, you’d be a fool to miss Grandma Zarifa’s lentil soup — a small bowl is only $2, and it’ll warm you to your core.
One last quick tip: Don’t forget to stop by the ATM beforehand. Sultan’s Market’s Bucktown/Wicker Park location is cash only (the Lincoln Park location accepts credit cards) — and the in-store machine will hit you with fees.