By Helena Tavares Kennedy | Photos by Linda Hughes
As you enter Petra Grill’s new Manassas location, it’s like stepping into another country with beautiful Turkish tiles and varying spices aroma providing a feast for your nose. The wide variety and freshly made offerings are a delight for all your senses.
Marwan Almasri, Petra Grill’s Owner, has been in the restaurant business since college. The objective when opening his first restaurant at the Potomac Mills Mall food court in December 2006 was to bring authentic overseas cuisine at an affordable price for locals. Almasri says the most rewarding thing about Petra Grill for him is to be able to offer a unique place unlike any other in Prince William County with the blend of Middle Eastern/ Lebanese/Mediterranean cuisine. He frequently hears from appreciative customers because they used to drive to Fairfax, Arlington or even Washington, D.C., to get good Lebanese or Middle Eastern food.
Petra Grill’s Chef Mahbuba Maizi comes with a plethora of Lebanese cooking experience, including previously working at Lebanese Taverna in Tysons Corner. Her menu expands beyond the usual kabobs and includes Shawarma (Lebanese style), Gyro platters, Falafel, Manaeesh, Baba Ghanouge, Fattoush Salad, Hummus, Grape Leaves and more.
Chicken kabob and the mixed grill are some of the most popular items with customers, said Maizi. The mixed grill is especially popular with customers because it includes so many different meats like chicken, lamb and kufta kabobs. It is a nice way to sample several different menu items. The Gyro Platter and Chicken Shawarma are also popular choices even though Shawarma was initially the hardest thing for people to get used to because many have heard of kabobs and gyros but not shawarma.
The Real Deal
From the beginning, Almasri wanted to keep his food offerings authentic. According to several customers, he has succeeded. “We’ve been to the Middle East, and this reminds us of what we ate there. The food is consistently great, unique and authentic. Especially for the price and what you get, it is fantastic,” said Ralph and Linda Ciampa, customers who visit the Manassas location at least once a month.
Everything on Petra Grill’s menu is hand prepared daily and made fresh. It is fast in that it can take 10 minutes to receive your food order that is much quicker than many sit down restaurants, but since it is made to order, it can take longer than fast food like McDonald’s. Since it is freshly made, and nothing is microwaved, customers find the 10-minute wait worth it for the fresh ingredients and preparation.
“My 11-year-old son saw Shawarma mentioned in the Avengers movie so he wanted to try it. Once we visited their Manassas restaurant, we were hooked on the quality of the food. We keep coming back for not only the Shawarma but the Fattoush salad and more,” said Kristina Crossley, another customer at the Manassas location.
The grape leaves taste refreshing and cool while the homemade pita bread is soft, warm and soothing. The Mediterranean Platter consisting of beef shawarma is delicious and flavorful. The made from scratch hummus is so creamy and smooth that it’s hard to believe it’s a healthy food.
The Zaatar with cheese has a nice mild cheese flavor with a soft, perfectly textured warm bread base, topped with thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and olive oil paste to create a winning combination. Lahm Bajeen has the same soft bread base but is topped with a ground beef spread flavored with tomatoes, onions and spices. Hot mint tea is complimentary with any entrée that is a nice bonus, especially on a cold day.
Two Locations, Two Different Experiences
Petra Grill’s first location in Potomac Mills is where a former kabob grill was located, which led to some initial challenges because customers would ask for certain things the Indian/Pakistani style kabob grill had served before Petra Grill moved in. It took a bit for people to get used to the Middle Eastern/Lebanese style cuisine that Petra Grill offers.
Almasri estimates that about 35 percent of the Potomac Mills mall location customers go out of their way to visit Petra Grill and are not just stopping by because they are already in the mall. Over the years, Almasri received customer requests asking if he would open a restaurant location that was a more private, sit down place they could take their family and out of town visitors.
That led him to open the Manassas location on Galveston Court in October 2014. Now Petra Grill employs about 20 employees between the two locations. Shuaib Alhajebi, a Petra Grill Manassas location employee, said the best thing about working there is that the customers are so great. “They love the food, they are friendly and interesting,” said Alhajebi. The most common question he gets from customers is “What is Shawarma?”
“The locations are a bit different in that there are more pick-up/take-out orders in the Manassas location as people are on their way home from work and call ahead or stop by to get dinner on the way,” said Almasri. He also said customers love the new Manassas location because they have more parking, and it is less crowded than the Potomac Mills food court location. It’s also a place they can take their family or visitors for a unique dining experience.
“It’s neat when customers comment on the authenticity. We especially get a lot of military, government and Quantico people visiting the Manassas location on their way home from work. They love the food because it tastes like what they had when they were stationed or visiting overseas. There are a lot of kabob restaurants out there but none like us that have grape leaves, shawarma and other unique Middle Eastern foods,” said Alhajebi. Something for Everyone
There are many vegetarian items as well as non-bread items for any staying away from gluten, so it’s easy to find something for people with special dietary needs.
Customers can make substitutions so if there is a platter or entrée you really like but you don’t like the side listed, you can replace it for another side at no extra charge. For example, you can replace the rice side that comes with many menu items with hummus instead.
Catering is available, as is call-ahead for pick-up on your way home. Almasri will sit down with you, plan out the menu to customize it for you and discuss what your favorites are to make sure they are included for your event.
If you are looking for a way to step into another world full of delicious, healthy food without leaving town, Petra Grill is the place to go.
Visit their website at petramediterraneangrill.com for contact information for both locations, their menu and other details.
Helena Tavares Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and nonprofit communications director. She has lived in Prince William County with her husband and children for more than 15 years.