Order a kebab at the small, cheerful Tigris Grill (2946-P Chain Bridge Rd., Oakton; 703-255-5950) and a cook fans the coals before placing the skewers of meat over a pit of hot embers. As soon as the mildly spiced chicken or beef shish kebabs ($8.95) are pulled from the flame, he accessorizes the plate: a choice of two sides or appetizers—such as rice, fries, hummus, tabbouleh, or tzatziki—and a salad topped with pickled beets. A large round of freshly baked bread blankets the platter.
Aside from the devotion to detail, what sets this Iraqi kebab house apart is the modern decor—more like a Scandinavian cafe than the utilitarian dining rooms of many competitors—and the use of organic ingredients, atypical for ethnic restaurants.
The chicken shish kebab ($8.95 platter, $5.95 sandwich) and chicken tikka, chunks of marinated chicken ($9.95 platter, $7.45 large sandwich), are first rate. Beef tikka ($9.95 platter, $7.95 sandwich) is equally tender, the filet-mignon cubes cooked medium and made tangy with vinegar marinade.
Sandwiches benefit from ripe red tomatoes plus fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint wrapped in the warm bread. The earthy lentil soup ($2.95) is brightened by a squeeze of lemon and deepened by chicken broth and roasted onions. A sample of the soup might arrive gratis while you wait for your meal.
Other highlights include falafel ($7.95 platter, $5.95 sandwich), a recipe that Tigris Grill’s globetrotting owner, Mowafak “Mofi” Alshagra, brags about on the restaurant’s Web site. Served straight out of the fryer and with a pronounced hit of garlic, Tigris’s falafel is among the tastiest in the area.
The creamy, smoky baba ghanoush ($3.95) is pleasing, while the marga ($2.50)—a tomato-and-vegetable stew with a hint of curry powder—sometimes achieves a perfect balance of spices and other times arrives bland. It was the only misstep in a string of satisfying meals.
This review appears in the September, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.