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Shish Cafe

($$) - Closed

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5510 University Ave
Madison, WI 53705 (Map & Directions)
Phone: (608) 236-9006
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Neighborhood: West

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Additional Dining Info


Credit Cards Accepted


Good for Kids


Yes - full bar


Price Point
$$ $ - Cheap Eats (Under $10)
$$ - Moderate ($11-$25)
$$$ - Expensive ($25-$50)
$$$$ - Very Pricey (Over $50)


Outdoor Seats


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Restaurant Description

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Top Reviews of Shish Cafe

review_stars 04/11/2012 - Denise
This is one of my favorite spots to eat. The food is delicious and reasonably priced. I have never had poor service - sometimes they are understaffed but they still manage to provide good service. The Jibne is out of this world and the choice of vegetarian dished is amazing. I have had both the beef and the chicken and the flavors were wonderful.

review_stars 08/13/2011 - Josh O
Worst Dining Experience in Madison Ever! We came here twice a few months ago and the food was very very tasty. There was one server with a massive crowd and he was great and our food was fantastic.

However, this last experience was a NIGHTMARE. We were very excited to try the Chicken Shish Kabob because we saw someone order it the last time we were in and it looked delicious, just as everyone here has described. We also ordered the hummus with lamb. While waiting for over a half an hour our server brought us lots of tasty bread which was fine.

When we got our meal there was a massive plate of cous cous and a tiny (less than one small chicken breast) of kabob with one tiny piece of tomato, onion, and green pepper. Our Lamb dish had a tiny morsel of lamb with hummus as well. The worst thing is that the chicken was burnt, most of it covered in black. It tasted like a rock and was completely void of juice.

We NEVER complain at restaurants but since it was 15 dollars we felt we had to. We mentioned to our server our problem and she said the portion was correct (even though our neighbors was as least 1/3 bigger in size). She said she would bring a new one.

Meanwhile, the manager came over and very rudely told us the portion size was correct. We corrected her that our problem was primarily the burnt food. She told us very pompous that, "this is what it should look like" as if we have never eaten kabobs before. We almost left.

After waiting another half an hour our new kabobs arrived and they were even more burnt. THICKLY BLACK. It was more than insulting.

The manager even refused to refund our meal and was completely unapologetic.

Avoid at all costs!

review_stars 07/10/2011 - Stephanie
My tastebuds are still begging for another return to Shish! We had the Shish sampler and I haven't had this good of Mediterranean in a restaurant EVER! The Mouhamara is perfectly seasoned and the lamb--don't get me started about the lamb kebobs. Although its not much to look at from the front, give this little place a chance. My stomach cannot wait to devour this menu over the coming months. Thanks for making such a great impression on this newbie to Madison.

review_stars 06/16/2011 - Jim
I found this restaurant to be very good. However the menu in this section is out of date. Please update the menu so people can see what they actually serve.

review_stars 04/14/2011 - Tom
Superb food. Excellent service. Affordable. Flavors are wonderful. Expect an experience different from day to day cuisine.

review_stars 03/17/2011 - MJ
The food is always great. I am a vegetarian, and there are a lot of dishes to choose from. I have never had a problem with the service. It is not overwhelmingly happy, fake service; I feel the servers are genuine and are happy to please. My bread basket did not stay empty long. The only downside is take out is a bit awkward because you have to stand in the dining room to wait for your food. The food more than makes up for the awkwardness.

review_stars 03/02/2011 - Dominic
I must admit, I was a little skeptical after reading the other reviews from this place. Nevertheless, we decided to try it out and give the establishment the benefit of the doubt. We enjoyed the restaurant atmosphere and its food very much. It was a comfortable place to eat and there were more patrons than I anticipated for a Wednesday evening. The only place were I would remove a start was the service. I think the servers in the restaurant could make improvements in reflecting more immediate attention to the needs of all of their clientele. The homemade bread was a great way to rope us in! Their choice of olive oil was divine and I enjoyed it so much that I had the server write down the name for me. As an appetizer we ordered the Fateira Cheese which was good but as simple as a 10'' pizza sans the sauce :) For an entrées we had the Shrimp Mediterranean Noodles and the Beef Shish Kabob. The shrimp were both fresh and a large in size. The sauce had a very nice flavor to it and was not too overpowering (i.e. both chile peppers and other herbs). The beef of the kabob was of high quality and was not overcooked. It was a great place to eat and I would recommend it. Since consistency is key to the restaurant business, it is possible that it has both good days and not so good days. This may even account for the "spottiness" of other reviews. Overall, I was very pleased with our experience.

review_stars 03/01/2011 - darcee
I have eaten at this restaurant many many times. I have never had bad food or service. I have been there when there is an awesome dancer too. The food is amazing and the service is personal. The owner has come to my table and greeted all of us and made sure we were happy with every part of our dinner. I have recommended Shish Cafe to several of my friends and would every day! I was stunned to see the posts. This restaurant was shown on a local TV show and also received excellent reviews. I guess you can't please everyone. I would pick this restaurant before ANY national chain.

review_stars 03/01/2011 - Janet
Shish Cafe is one of my favoriate restaurants!!! I always tell my friends and co-workers about it. I have never had bas service or a bad meal. The wait staff is always pleasant and attentive to us. The owner has always stopped by every table in the place to make sure your meal is perfect. I read an artical in the State Journal and it was a raving review, it was one of the reasons why I tried the restaurant. I also recently saw them on NBC15 news and they loved the food. I will always go to the Shish Cafe!!!

review_stars 02/08/2011 - stephanie
I went last saturday for diner
cold and salty food, Bad service and Unacceptable Indian waitress !!!!!

review_stars 02/05/2011 - David Miller
Disappointing. Cold food. Slow service. Was really excited to return.

review_stars 12/30/2010 - Angela
If there hadn't been a bug floating in my water, I might not be writing this post. If the waiter had apologized for aforementioned bug in my water, I might not be writing this post. If perhaps they'd tried to make amends, say, a small discount on the bill, I might not be writing this post. But, to the contrary, the bug in the water appeared to be my fault, or at least, a big inconvenince to my waiter, that he had to bring me another glass of water. And thus, I'm writing this post about my impressions during my last visit to what had been, a favorite Madison restaurant in Middle Eastern cuisine.

The Shish Cafe has long been a family favorite, one of those restaurants where even if everything on the menu isn't perfect, you've enjoyed so many memorable meals you forgive the slight imperfections. The hummus, for example, has always been dry and lacking flavor (quite a grievance for such a staple on a Middle Eastern menu) but the tabouli (light on the barley and just tart enough to be interesting) makes up for it.

On the "bug in the water night" however, neither favorable memories nor the tabouli could make up for an evening of very poor service and disappointing entrees. We were seated immediately, but once at our table saw no one for a good ten minutes. Looking around the small restaurant it appeared about half full, not exactly full enough to merit neglecting hungry customers that long. When the basket of warm pita bread arrived I was thinking all would be forgiven; how can one hold a grudge when dipping a homemade warm fresh pita into olive oil infused with zataar? Yet, the pita was overdone and crispy, so my frustration with the evening grew.

We finally placed our order while making sure to ask for another basket of pita and to please re-fill our water glasses, as unless we specifically asked, the smallish water glasses remained emptied all evening. Our cucumber mint yogurt salad arrived along with the fatiera hed we'd ordered as an appetizer. Both were much larger in proportion that we'd anticipated. The salad far exceeded any expectations; the romaine lettuce was crisp, the mint yogurt sauce cool and just tart enough, and somehow they'd managed to find tomatoes that weren't dreadful in December. The fatiera hed, basically a middle eastern pizza, was good, but not as good as I'd remembered. The crust on the flat bread was a bit soggy and it also was cool enough to suggest it had been sitting for a little while too long. The flavor of the feta cheese and spicy red sauce did make up for it enough for us both to have a few pieces along with the salad though.

Our entrees arrived and I eagerly abandoned the soggy fatiera hed crust to dive into the Shish Sea Bass. I'd ordered this on a previous visit and had been blown over by the delicate way they'd handled the fish. On this particular night, however, it seemed nothing was as I'd remembered. While the fish was at least not overcooked, it was much greasier and saltier than I'd remembered. Same went for the basmati rice. Both were made more palatable by borrowing some yogurt sauce from the salad, but it was a disappointment to say the least. Trying some of my husband's lamb borek, I was as equally surprised to find the lamb completely dried out while the borek crust remained greasy; it seemed to me an accomplishment in and of itself to create an entree that was at once both dry and greasy, though I not sure it's an accomplishment one should brag about.

Having asked for refills of water when the entrees came, I at this point noticed the small black bug innocently striding across my water glass. After several attempts we flagged down our waiter, who, amazingly did not apologize nor appear embarrassed; rather, he appeared annoyed as he looked down in the glass and we suggested he bring us another glass.

Having lived in a third world country in Central America, I've eaten/drank my fair share of bugs with a meal; I'm don't consider myself very squeamish. However, when one is paying $16.99 for lamb borek and the like, one expects the water to be free of any surprises.

The saving grace of the meal was that we didn't pay for most of it. No, management did not give us any discounts; we thankfully had a gift certificate. Thus, we left the Shish Cafe only owing $8.00 of our own cash, which was about what we thought that meal was worth anyway.

I can't say I'll never go back to the Shish Cafe; the cucumber mint yogurt salad was just too good to swear off completely just now. But if we have more evenings like the above, we may find ourselves driving down University Avenue and passing right by the Shish and continuing on towards the pricier Lulu's to satisfy our Middle Eastern cravings.

review_stars 12/08/2010 - katy
the food was good , but the indian lady who works there is not polite!!!

review_stars 08/12/2010 - Tom
I took my family out for "something different" and we all experienced a outstanding culinary experience. The service was expert and excellent. The warm pita bread was completed by olive oil (which we mixed with a home-made spice in a shaker...marvelous. From the remarkable appetizers (okra with wonderful spices, and falafel) to the selection of different entrees (four - lamb chops, sea bass, orange roughy and borek stuffed with lamb and vegetables)everyone of us was totally pleased - flavor, portions and quality. This is my first-ever review, but Shish Cafe is a great find! We're already planning on returning very soon.

review_stars 05/20/2010 - Caitlin
Fantastic food! Absolutely wonderful! Their special spice mix is so fantastic, I asked if I could buy some and the chef personally mixed some up for me free of charge! Lots of people know how great this restaurant is and it is very busy! If you're going for dinner, make reservations!

review_stars 03/05/2010 - Dana from Denver
My friend in Madison lives near Shish Cafe, so we ordered takeout Superbowl night. They told us 20 minutes, yet when we got there we waited another 10 minutes even though the restaurant was far from full. Could be they had a lot of takeout orders that night. We had ordered the Spinach Borek and the Mujadara (lentils). The borek was so-so, pretty bland. But the Mujadara was excellent, the best lentil dish I've ever had. I live in Denver and can not easily go back, unfortunate since I've been craving the dish. All in all, I liked Shish Cafe and would jump at the chance to have that dish again.

review_stars 01/21/2010 - Ken Barth
Our party arrived at 11:45 for lunch. The service was immediate, friendly, and very attentive. The food was superb. I can't wait to return!

review_stars 01/14/2010 - Ann
This is the WORST service I've EVER had. I went there for lunch.

We were seated around 12pm.

It took until 12:20pm for someone to come by and get our orders!

Then it took until 1pm for our food to show up. The pita you're supposed to have to snack on while waiting for your order didn't show up until a few minutes before our food arrived.

The server NEVER checked back to see if everything was all right, and NEVER refilled any of the drinks.

We were finished eating by 1:20pm. We then had to GRAB the waiter as he passed to ask for our check. 10 minutes later, we still didn't have our check. I told my companions that I was really sorry, I had a meeting at work I was going to be late for, and left them with the money for my meal and left. As far as I know, they're STILL waiting for the check.

I am NEVER returning! 90+ minutes for a LUNCH is beyond ridiculous.

review_stars 12/05/2009 - PR
Amazing! Amazing ! Amazing!!! This is my favorite restaurant in Madison and I can eat here any time. The food is fresh, extremely flavorful and have good portion sizes. I have tried most of their dishes and love them all. But if you are going to get the chance to go there once, I would surely recommend the Shish is out of this world!

review_stars 08/18/2009 - Aren from Seattle
vast menu, amazing spices, large portions so prepare to share! good service - very helpful. an out of the way gem.

review_stars 05/26/2009 - Amanda
This is my absolute favorite restaurant in Madison! The food couldn't be better, and the people that work there are great.

review_stars 04/21/2009 -
It really does live up to all the hype. It is hands-down the best Mediterranean food I've ever had. Get the Veg Sampler I. I'm a meat lover, but I'd choose this combo dish over a meat one any day.

review_stars 03/10/2009 -
Our meal at Shish Cafe recently was wonderful.

review_stars 02/05/2009 -
Love everything, but the prices are a bit much.

review_stars 11/21/2008 -
I go there for lunch, I go there for dinner. It's always excellent, and the people are so friendly!

review_stars 12/19/2007 -
The food is awesome! Try the Shish Sampler if you've never been there before. You won't be disappointed. :-)

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