I tried to make homemade hummus yesterday, and it was the consistency of peanut butter.
At school, I used to eat hummus nearly every day for lunch. Now as I write this article from my kitchen at home in Chicago, I count it among the growing list of things that I never expected to miss. Also on that list are the quintessential college relationships that I often overlooked until I was completely deprived of social interaction.
Did I think I’d miss the guy in my early morning history class that raised his hand every five seconds? Did I think I’d miss my draconian professor who spoke exclusively in Shakespearean English? Did I think I’d miss the University City Housing personnel that wouldn’t respond to my emails?
The answer is no. I didn’t.
I took it all for granted, back when my biggest concern of the day was what hummus place I'd go to for lunch. Flash forward a few weeks and I’d actually pay money to listen to my classmate’s incessant series of questions. I’d also pay money to eat hummus that doesn’t resemble peanut butter.
In creating this brief roundup, I simply set out to chart the hummus geography of campus, so that you don’t have to. But in the spirit of missing all things good and bad Penn, I don’t wish to compare or rank my hummus experiences. Instead, I will assign each hummus dish a college—specific character and evaluate it only in terms of what it can offer on its own.
So, without further ado, here is my comprehensive guide to University City hummus (for when we return in the fall):
Dizengoff: The NSO Friend
Fun in small quantities.
This hummus encapsulates the very spirit of NSO—extremely hyped–up in the Penn community and impossible to exist for over a week.
I sampled all the hummus platters being offered on a certain Wednesday at noon: Classic Tehina, Pepper, Lima Bean, and Chicken. I’m a carnivore, so the chicken was my favorite by far. It was heavenly. The pulled chicken thighs were crispy and topped with cilantro, which blended amazingly with the hummus. Not to mention the complimentary sides of freshly baked, still–warm pita and a chopped salad containing marinated green cabbage, sumac pickled onions, cucumbers and fresh herbs for dipping. Again, heavenly.
While this is one of my favorite hummus joints, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a lot. Not just a lot of hummus itself (a literal bowl of just hummus), but also a lot of salt and a lot of money. Every time I eat it, especially days where I eat four platters in the name of journalism, I have a sudden urge to sleep and/or get a job.
This isn't a friendship for the daily. You may just want to check in every now and then, when the toppings are good that day (you can check @dizengoff_philly on Instagram for their daily topping rotation).
Bang for your buck ranking: 3/10
Restaurant ambience ranking: 6/10 (went during rush hour and had to eat standing)
Taste ranking: 8/10
Address: 3401 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Magic Carpet: The Tenured Macroeconomics Professor
Cult following. Never–changing recipe. Controversial reputation.
These food trucks have been serving the Penn community since 1984, and they’ve amassed quite a presence at Penn. Some swear by them, others resent them, but everybody knows their name. While the quality of this Penn classic is contested, it's here to stay. Magic Carpet is not necessarily known for its hummus, yet the side is popular and finds its way into a lot of the entrees.
I recently ordered a large Combo Salad with marinated tofu and hummus, and was relatively satisfied. The whole order came out to about $8.00, which was a great price for how much food I got. The hummus was a bit tangy for my taste, but I felt like I was eating history. I recommend trying out their hummus to see where you stand.
Bang for your buck ranking: 9/10
Restaurant ambience ranking: 0/10 (the food truck compromise)
Taste ranking: 6/10
Address: Food trucks on Spruce St. in front of lower quad gate, 34th and Walnut streets.
Greek Lady: The Classmate That Sends You Their Notes
Located in the epicenter of off–campus student housing, Greek Lady has been in the Penn food scene since 1982, even longer than Magic Carpet. It’s chill, it’s easy, it’s not here trying to prove anything. I can’t emphasize enough the simplicity of my hummus platter—a mass of hummus next to a mass of whole–wheat pita bread. It isn’t sprinkled with fancy spices. It isn’t adorned with complicated sauces. It's just reliably straightforward.
With my meal coming out to only $7.00, there’s more to gain than there is to lose. Greek Lady is vital to the Penn experience.
Bang for your buck ranking: 9/10
Restaurant ambience ranking: 5/10 (mediocre diner vibes)
Taste ranking: 5/10
Address: 222 S 40th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
Yiro Yiro: The One–Time Date Night
Promises more than it can deliver.
The restaurant calls itself "a fresh spin on fast Greek"’ but there is nothing fast about the process—be prepared to wait at least half an hour for your food. I opted for the ‘On a Plate’ option, with beef and lamb, hummus, and rice pilaf. Maybe this is just a weird ‘me’ thing, but I found myself adding olive oil to resuscitate the flavor. The hummus tasted more store–bought than fresh—I could have spent a quarter of the money buying Sabra from across the street.
However, looking beyond the hummus, the establishment certainly has its charms. The meat in particular was out–of–this–world—the gyro meat carved right in front of you. My advice is to have some perspective with this one—maybe it’s not up for being your hummus go–to, but no reason to neglect what it may be offering you. While I most likely won’t be ordering their hummus again, I’m glad I tried it (for comparison’s sake).
Bang for your buck ranking: 6/10 (very expensive, but two dinner’s worth of food)
Restaurant ambience ranking: 3/10
Taste ranking: 4/10
Address: 125 S 40th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104
Hummus Grill: The Boy That You Asked To Formal And It Ended Up Working Out Surprisingly Well
Just around the corner from every Yiro Yiro is a Hummus Grill.
Everything about this place is charming to me. I was skeptical of it at first, could this be another one–time situation? On the outside, the restaurant decor makes it appear somewhat like a late-night eatery, but you’ll soon find out that it’s good every hour of the day.
Stopping in for lunch a few weeks ago, I ordered the Hummus Salad which consisted of chickpeas, avocado, hummus, and fresh vegetables. The hummus had just the right amount of salt, and the salad had just the right amount of hummus. Even better, the meal came out to around $8.00. I was so entranced that I even bought packs of hummus to store in my fridge at home.
Nothing about this dish or this restaurant is overwhelming, and the menu is varied enough to keep you coming back every day. Give it a chance and it may surprise you.
Bang for your buck ranking: 9/10
Restaurant ambience ranking: 5/10
Taste ranking: 9/10
Address: 3931 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104