I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a junkie for Iranian cuisine. I've been fueling my insatiable addiction for koobideh kebabs, faloodeh and bastani for the better part of a decade, and at less than a handful of joints around the city. So when Zora Grille in Altamonte Springs unexpectedly shuttered earlier this year, it left Shiraz Grill on Westwood Boulevard near I-Drive as the sole Persian joint in town. Too far I'd think to myself when a pang for succulent cylinders of ground beef, frozen rose-essenced vermicelli and pistachio ice cream hit. But when I spotted the marquee of Shiraz Market (no relation to Shiraz Grill) midway through a serendipitous drive in Longwood, I screeched my tires and hard-turned into a parking spot in the 427 Plaza. The heady waft as I opened the door only added to the sensorial overload of the scene inside: Freezers on the left and in the back full of Farsi-scrawled tubs, cans and bottles; shelves stocked with every imaginable spice, pickle and oil; bags of rice piled high on the floor; boxes with fresh produce on tables; and ravenous diners with their heads buried in styrofoam containers.
Next to the counter, a display case of sweets beckoned drool to unspool; behind the counter is the posted bill of fare, with my beloved koobideh at the very top. It's offered at an unbeatable price of $9.99 for two skewers, rice, a requisite charred plum tomato and an onion/parsley mix. There's a liquefied packet of Land O' Lakes butter to spurt over the meat and rice, along with a lime wedge, but the koobideh is the unquestionable king. It's the shah of shish; the mughal of mince; the ... okay you get the idea, but so hooked I am on the kebabs that I purchased some flat-blade skewers, acquired a recipe and made the ground beef wonders at home. Not bad, but not as good as the ones served here. Hell, if Disney tourists from Iran make it a point to make the drive to Longwood for a taste of home, owner Nas Rajabi and his family must be doing something right. And it's not like kebabs of chicken thighs and breasts ($9.99), are an afterthought either. They're just as superb as their beef counterparts, but when that chicken is stewed and laid atop barberry-jeweled saffron rice for zereshk polo ($9.99), it's easy to see why the dish is a common sight at Iranian weddings. The starchless, sticky-free rice, by the way, is incredible and a bit of a pain to make. It needs to be washed multiple times, soaked in salt, boiled to an al dente, strained, cooled, then steamed for 45 minutes to an hour. Verdict: Best. Rice. Ever.
If available, enjoy the rice with ghormeh sabzi ($8.99), a luxuriant beef stew punched with fenugreek leaves and whole dried limes. It comes a close second to rice and kebabs as Iran's national dish.
Meat for the chicken gyro sandwich ($5.99) is made fresh on the premises (not so with the lamb) and shaved off a vertical spit. You can opt for a spicy version, then sweeten the end to your meal with airy Persian cream puffs ($1.49) and cream-filled cookies called "latifeh" ($0.99). Naturally, I head to the freezer and grab a tub of faloodeh and bastani to take home with me, but not before enjoying a spot of perfumed Persian tea ($1.49). The comforting rose-essenced brew, much like the market itself, envelops the sweet smell of success.