Falafel with sauce Falafel with sauce A freshly-prepared plate of Kameel's signature falafel. (Photo: Anna Norris)

Atlanta’s favorite Mediterranean restaurant earns top honors on Yelp

With lines out the door, the healthy food and charismatic chef are drawing crowds.

Saunter into Aviva by Kameel, and it feels more like you've entered a friend's kitchen than a top-rated restaurant.

"Hello, my brother!" shouts proprietor Kameel Srouji. "Sir, you can have anything you want! Without you, I am nothing!" And, as always, he punctuates every greeting with "I love you!" With Kameel, nothing is said without exclamation.

The love, it appears, goes both ways. Yelp recently honored Aviva by Kameel by placing it on its list of Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2015. The Israeli-inspired restaurant, which opened in 2012, is ranked #13 overall in the country. The rankings are comprised of the most popular and most well-reviewed restaurants on the site. Aviva by Kameel has more than 250 5-star reviews on Yelp.

Our guide to the top U.S. restaurants that serve Israel cuisine.

Yelp sign and a view of the line at Kameel's

Which came first: the long lines at Kameel's, or the fantastic Yelp rating? (Photo: Anna Norris)

The restaurant is a bevy of activity, located at the intersection of downtown Atlanta office buildings and convention hotels, amidst a food court filled with chains like Checkers and Chick-fil-A.

"It's as healthy as you can get, especially in a food court," says Patrick Pence, a business consultant who frequents the restaurant about once a week. His go-to dish is usually the chicken shawarma, but today he's opting for fresh salmon.

The restaurant has no freezer; all of its ingredients are fresh and stored in a walk-in cooler. Patrons are even invited back to see for themselves.

A popular chicken dish at the restaurant.A popular organic salmon dish at the restaurant. (Photo courtesy Aviva by Kameel)

"The only oil we use is olive oil," Kameel shouts to passersby. A minute later he adds: "No mayonnaise! No margarine! No butter!" His directives don't seem necessary; there is a line going out the door.

"Everyday our lamb shawarma is gone completely," he said.

Chef Kameel Srouji Chef Kameel Srouji (Photo courtesy Aviva by Kameel)

For those waiting, Kameel prepares a plate of his famous falafel and has the next person in line take it and pass it around. Later, a server brings complimentary plates of fresh-cut watermelon around to diners.

Aerin Siller, who works in downtown Atlanta, ate lunch there with two friends on a recent Friday afternoon. "It's very light, and it's very healthy," she said between bites of her chicken shawarma. "Which is great for lunch, so you don't get too full and fall asleep at your desk later." Sixty percent of the restaurant's customers dine with them at least four times a week.

The eatery's success is not just due to its delicious food, but to the man who makes it. He is himself a force of nature. Kameel and his team spend 4 to 5 hours each evening, prepping food for the next day. Everything is hand cut, without the aid of machines. "We do it the old-fashioned way," he says proudly.

When asked what he considered his favorite dish, Kameel (who himself hasn't eaten meat in 35 years) talks lovingly about freekah and lentils but ultimately says, "I love our falafel with babaghanoush."

Flounder stuffed with fresh spinach, sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese.Flounder stuffed with fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese. (Photo courtesy Aviva by Kameel)

Kameel takes pride in his creations and is grateful to see the crowds. "Truthfully, every restaurant we've ever had has been successful," he says, "but this one is a home run. It's been fantastic for us. People are getting more familiar with Israeli and Mediterranean food. People are understanding more about the nutritional value of it."

With that, he turns to the next customer: "Hello, my sister!"

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