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A collection of takeout dishes from Fatima’s Grill.
A spread from Fatima’s Grill in Ditmas Park, now open.

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LA’s Viral Sensation Serving Shawarma Crunch Wraps and Cheetos Quesadillas Arrives in NYC

Fatima’s Grill is heating up dining options in Ditmas Park

In May, Fatima’s Grill opened at 964 Coney Island Avenue, near Newkirk Avenue, selling shawarma “crunch wraps” and Cheeto-dusted quesadillas alongside straightforward tacos and gyro platters. It may seem odd that the Instagram-famous minichain, which originated in Downey, California, chose the sleepy Ditmas Park for its New York debut, and sixth restaurant across the country. With Lebanese American founder, Ali Elreda, having family in Bay Ridge, a Brooklyn location makes sense. Situated on a busy stretch of Little Pakistan at the border of Kensington and Flatbush, “the diversity isn’t a hundred blocks away. It’s just a few blocks away,” Elreda says of the neighborhood, which is home to immigrants from Central Asia, Bangladesh, and Mexico.

On a recent Friday afternoon, young men in dishdashas and Air Jordans waited in line beside students from Brooklyn College. A Caribbean man on a moped popped in for a quick meal, while a stroller-mom quelled her hungry daughter with a snack. The location’s franchise owners, Hamdi Papinara and Abdul Tariq — Albanian and Pakistani American, respectively — grew up nearby. Fatima’s fusion food fits right into this melting pot, especially with the history that Lebanese immigrants play when it comes to the evolution of tacos al pastor.

A shawarma dusted with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from Fatima’s Grill.
Hot Cheetos drape burritos at Fatima’s Grill.
A head dips the quesa tacos birria into the consome.
Quesa tacos birria.

The whopping menu contains over 70 items, a seemingly endless series of permutations of items like tacos, burgers, burritos, and quesadillas. It includes their Frankenstein progeny, quesaritos and “crunch wraps” — with protein options like shrimp, beef gyro, and chicken shawarma — and add-ons like rellenos and mac and cheese. And of course, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

The bright orange dust along with the unapologetic boldness and size of these dishes have helped the restaurant build a social media following, where the hefty offerings are backdropped to rap remixes. One of Fatima’s signature dishes is the Hot Cheeto quesarito: A miniature bag of the spicy snack and a generous squiggle of nacho cheese are tucked into the usual burrito, which is of course then rolled onto another tortilla, spread sprinkled with more cheese and nacho cheese, and griddled shut.

The shawarma crunch wrap at Fatima’s Grill.
The shawarma crunch wrap at Fatima’s Grill.

Prices can reach into the $20-range thanks to sizable portions. And everything is halal, down to the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: The enzymes used in the cheese flavoring may come from animals, but Frito-Lay has said the ones made in the U.S. do not. In the Downey location, Elreda posts signs with this information from the manufacturer’s website, but he still gets questions about what Cheetos contain. “The Brooklyn location went above and beyond,” says Elreda; they import the packaged snack back by the suitcaseful from Pakistan.

The food is a testament to Elreda’s unique vision and past. After being charged with the intent to sell drugs in Arizona, he honed his kitchen skills serving seven-and-a-half years time, learning to cook with limited supplies and ingredients. While the meals were set for the week, on Saturdays and Sundays he was given free rein, which is when he began experimenting. One of his early creations: a bean and cheese burrito with Doritos and Top Ramen. (Hot Cheetos were not offered in the commissary.)

A hulkish burrito with red Jarritos.
A hulkish burrito.

Today you might catch Elreda behind the grill in California or in an Instagram reel. While the Brooklyn location may lack his persuasive presence, it has been distilled into its surroundings. The small shop is festooned with the same decor as the original: plaques, sports memorabilia (Elreda is a Yankees fan), and neon signs, including their signature: “99 problems but a shawarma ain’t one.”

A shelf of condiments, gummy worms, and chips.
Condiments and snacks.

So far, there isn’t any one best-selling item. Elreda favors the quesa tacos birria and the mix-shawarma wraps — the bread and butter of the business. “Those are pretty much a one-two punch. They are a must, must-have.”

The condiments are also a hit, such as the toum garlic sauce, which is made fresh daily. The bottled Lebanese Mexican or Lebamex Hot sauce, a Fatima’s signature sauce that’s a piquant medley of habanero, jalapeño, and red bell peppers, augmented with spices and lime juice, was also one he developed in prison. Its creaminess sets it apart from other fiery condiments.

For Elreda, “food is the best way to people’s hearts” and diversity in cuisine is the key to uniting people from different backgrounds. “If we were able to do that during the pandemic and can tackle it right now, he says, “I think we’re going to be okay.”

The sign at Fatima’s Grill.
A flame sign beckons customers in for spicy meals.

Elissa is a culture writer and film critic based in New York. She publishes the moviepudding newsletter and has written for Grub Street, Screen Slate, Vogue, Bomb Magazine, and more.

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