"I didn't hear about you, I smelled you," said the only other customer in the tiny kebab shop. He was responding to an inquisitive employee who stood behind a glass counter filled with massive metal skewers of raw pork ribs, ground beef koobideh and spiced chicken thighs. Each one was labeled with a specific cook time. "I smell the smoke every time I drive by, and it made me so hungry," he said enthusiastically.
My nose had also registered the meaty fragrance billowing out of the building and onto the Mexican food corridor of 16th Street. It came from a small room in the back of the space where Tony Chilingaryan grills his skewers over mesquite charcoal.
When it was my turn to order, the employee asked the same question: "How did you hear about us?"
I told him that I'd seen Kabob Grill N' Go photos all over social media, often accompanied by high praise for their gargantuan kabobs. Most of the posts were overhead pictures of a silver takeout container layered with a hearty selection of plump meats and grilled vegetables over basmati rice.
Former Arizona Republic food critic Dominic Armato was also a fan. He visited the spot a week after Chilingaryan and his wife Hasmik opened in May 2020. Now, with a year and a half under its belt, the restaurant could only get better.
The small space delivers big flavors
Considering its popularity, I was surprised at how small the restaurant's storefront was. The closet-sized room, decorated with children's drawings tacked up on the wall, was mostly taken up by a hallway and a small fridge selling cans of Hawaiian Punch. I had to step behind the counter so the cashier could run my credit card, and the only space to eat was a small table out front in the parking lot overlooking a mural of a camel and a magic carpet painted on the side of the Lebanese market next door.
The size of the food that came out was so epic, I had trouble even fitting it on the table. Two combo plates arrived in a tin buffet pan that you might use to cook a turkey. Atop a hearty bed of basmati rice were the biggest, most decadent kabobs I've ever seen. Three rows of bone-in pork ribs, marinated chicken thigh and steak were layered with contrasting rows of blistered Roma tomatoes and entire Anaheim peppers, the crispy skin splitting away from the soft flesh.
It was a feast, but it wouldn't have been complete without a few items that I picked up from next door.
More first bites: Thy these Chihuahua-style burritos on Grand Avenue
Pro-tip: Go next door and buy fresh bread
Kabob Grill N' Go doesn't actually serve bread, so the cashier encouraged me to grab some from the adjacent Lebanese restaurant, Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli. (Together with Nino's Greek Cafe, the three businesses form a small Western Asian enclave in a neighborhood of predominantly Mexican restaurants.)
The colorful bakery carries a large selection of freshly-baked pitas, plain or rubbed in a cakey za'atar spice blend or baked with feta cheese. I bought some plain pita along with a plastic jug of fruity housemade chile oil and some house-pickled turnips in beet juice to give my meaty plate some zing.
I didn't mind the detour, since Kabob Grill N' Go is laser-focused on the meat, and it shows.
What are Armenian kebabs?
Chilingaryan's kabobs are different from others you might have tried before at Middle Eastern or Persian restaurants. His recipes and marinades draw from his upbringing in Los Angeles as well as his family's Persian heritage and his wife's Armenian background.
Hasmik is from Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, which boasts a predominantly Christian population. This is why you'll see pork on the menu. And it's one of their most popular sellers.
Where I'm eating now: Pulled pork, handmade pasta and crispy duck in metro Phoenix
The steak, or barg as it's called in Iran, is made from Brazilian-cut angus beef, and though it was cooked slightly higher than my preferred medium rare, it was still juicy and delicious wrapped in a pita and drizzled with Chilingaryan's housemade chimichurri sauce.
The chicken thigh was marinated in a creamy blend that's the chef's secret recipe. It tasted of chile-spiced yogurt, but Hasmik assured me there was no yogurt present. Squished together to form a long skewer of chicken, the thigh was juicy and supple.
But my favorite of the bunch were the pork ribs, which arrived heavily charred and still clinging to the bone. I had to sink my teeth in and rip the thick pieces away. It was an immersive experience that left behind the lingering flavor of smoky, blackened meat.
The best part of a meal like this is the mixing and matching. Each bite a little different — chicken and some soft green pepper on a pita with a hit of chunky tzatziki, a bite of crunchy pork rib along with a spoonful of a tart Shirazi salad of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes in a lime dressing.
In the end, there was lots of rice left over, but every morsel of meat was gone. I'd probably take the whole thing to-go next time, but there was also something exceedingly satisfying about enjoying a meat platter in a parking lot, only steps away from the grill.
Kabob Grill N' Go
Where: 3050 N. 16th St., Phoenix.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday,11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or until kebabs sell out. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Price: Combo plates $16.99 to $21.99 come with rice, Shirazi salad, grilled veggies and choice of dip. Wraps $8.99 to $14.99.
Details: 602-607-5272, kabobgrillngo.com.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Armenian Persian restaurant makes great char-grilled kabobs