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Oct 8, 2003 05:39 PM

Trans Cafe

  • c

There have been a few of these homade-fluffy-pita, shiskebob-and-meat-pie Turkish joints popping up around town (Gyro King, a la Turca, etc.), and it's good to see this new one in the heart of the fin district, at the intersection of alley-streets Commercial and Leidesdorff. This is the former home of SRO -- I used to love the roast chicken -- whose passing I have been mourning for several months.

Zubi, one of the partners/servers, apologized that he was out of homemade pita by the time I got there (2 pm) and said he only opened Monday, so was still judging demand. I had a lamacun (labeled "Kurdish pizza" -- Zubi is a Kurd from Turkey) wrapped around salad, which was an incredible steel for $1.50. I also had a well-spiced shish kebab (I think it was $7). There were some meat pies under a heating lamp that I didn't try.

Zubi said "Oh yeah, I know those guys" when I mentioned the Turkish places above, and he said his place was "more sandwiches" to cater to the downtown lunch crowd (there are carved roast turkey and roast beef sandwiches, salads, etc.). He apologized that the crust of the lamacun was too crispy today because it was the first day they tried it, and promised it would be better next time. I would not have noticed, though.

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  1. k
    Kathleen Mikulis

    Thanks for the report!

    I walked in there last week to check the place out, and didn't even notice the place was Turkish! I just saw the sandwich listing. I wish they'd replace the sandwiches with all Turkish offerings.

    1. w

      Thanks for the nice tip on this new Trans Cafe place --I appreciate it and am looking forward to paying a visit.

      I am wondering what sort of side dishes Trans Cafe offers -- hummus, babaganoush, etc.? Do they also have rice, pilaf, dolmas, sarmas, falafel, etc.? How about chicken, various kabobs and meats, shawarma, etc.? Any tasty desserts or just standard baklava, etc.?

      I would love to be able to get my Middle Eastern fix downtown once in a while, since it's closer to work.

      If you've tried Yumma's Mediterranean out on Irving, how does Trans Cafe compare in terms of offerings and quality?

      Thanks a bunch!

      1 Reply
      1. I really want to like the Middle Eastern food at this place, really I do, but after my visit for lunch today it's not looking good.

        The bread's nice: 6" disks about 1" thick, very soft, fine grained white bread, with a touch of saltiness.

        I ordered the lamb kebab, which came with a skewer of 5 cubes of lamb, onion, and red peppers; plus grilled vegetables (red pepper, green pepper, squash, zucchini, eggplant), salad, and a half of a pita cut into biscotti-like spears. The vegetables were pretty good. The lamb however had an unpleasant sourness and was somewhat tough (cooked to about medium well). The salad was an undressed mix of bitter baby greens plus a slice of tomato. Cost was $7, plus another $1.50 for a Pellegrino Limonata.

        Other ME specialties were the various pies that X mentioned, plus Greek salad. Little else though. No dolmas, hummus, babaganoush, etc. The rest of the menu is a collection of European/American style sandwiches and salads.

        There is hope. The roast beef and roast turkey looked awesome. Each was freshly roasted and slices are cut off to order and put on fresh pita bread with lots of other very fresh, high-quality looking ingredients. Like I said, I really wanted to like the Middle Eastern food, but it's very likely I'll return for a roast beef. I don't want to be the downtown office worker who eschews ME food and only gets the American items, but if that's what's good that's what I'll eat.

        If his ME food is going to be good, I suspect he's going to need encouragement to put more effort into those items.


        7 Replies
        1. re: nja

          I, too, tried Trans Cafe today for a late lunch, and must say I am dismayed at the lack of Middle Eastern dishes -- be they Turkish, Armenian, Greek or otherwise. This place seems to be in search of an identity, with a tug of war between American sandwiches and Middle Eastern (Turkish) offerings, but so far has yet to define itself.

          Perhaps it's too early to form a judgement of this place, as they've only been open 5 days now. At this point, the strongest suits they have appear to be "Zubi", the friendly owner, their awesome-looking roast beef sandwiches, and their relative low prices (especially for the Financial District).

          I tried the Chicken Kebab, which tasted OK, but nothing special and seemed to be lacking most spices I have grown accustomed to such as allspice, cumin, sumac, etc.

          I liked the basic grilled vegies that came with the plate, but really was disappointed at the absence of any sides such as rice, tabuleh, baba ganoush, dolma, sarma, etc. offerings. The homemade peda bread itself was decent, but a bit salty. There was a stuffed eggplant dish that looked good, and also a spinach peda offering, but I was saving those for a later visit.

          Also disappointing was the seating layout, which consisted of a few small tables and one large picnic-sized table -- so the design is more for takeout or catering, perhaps?

          According to Zubi, none of the meats are Niman Ranch or similar quality, nor are they Halal. In fact, he said he's never even heard of the Niman name. When I kept asking for things they don't offer, he kept saying they are possibly going to be expanding the menu, but offered no firm promises.

          At this point, I definitely will return to try the Roast Beef and possibly the Italian Sausage sandwiches on a future visit, but am (sadly) not expecting much in the way of finding a solution to my occasional bouts with Middle Eastern addictions. Withdrawal symptoms have yet to develop, but I would really like to find a nice low-end (affordable) ME place downtown one of these days.

          Maybe Yumma's should consider opening a location down here?

          1. re: wedgeheadjunkie
            Kathleen Mikulis

            I'm at least the third Chowhounder who stopped in during lunch today. I looked over the menu again, and nothing appealed to me, and I thought, "Maybe another time." Now I read your review and I think, "Maybe not."

            I am curious about their beef pies and their feta pies. Has anyone tried these?

            Incidentally I went to Pakwan for the first time for lunch today instead. Doesn't hold a candle to Naan 'n Curry.

            1. re: Kathleen Mikulis

              Ah yes, Pakwan. I tried the Clay location for the second time a few weeks ago. My lamb dish had little bits of round shank bone, which was kind of cool, but the meat was fatty and just didn't taste good. The rice was clumpy. It was all pretty bad. I also tried the 16th/Valencia branch a few months ago and wasn't impressed.

              The first time I ate at the Clay location I had the chicken tikka masala and enjoyed it. But after the more recent visits, I'm going to have to agree with Missy P. when she said...


              1. re: Kathleen Mikulis

                I went to Pakwan myself and hated it. Then I went to Pakwan with my Indian friend. Very different experience. Their tandoori lamb chops are best in the city -- Shalimar's don't even come close. I also love the pepper curry, which I'm not sure is on the menu.

              2. re: wedgeheadjunkie

                Re: the tables. They had about 20 two and four tops set up in the alley outside. Were they packed up when you arrived later?

                This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Babu is convinced by Jerry to stop selling Frank & Beans and instead serve Pakistani food, and then goes out of business. I don't want to be Jerry.

                I'm really looking forward to trying that roast beef next week.

                1. re: nja

                  Good point. I arrived late for lunch, so the tables in the alley outside must have been packed up prior to my arrival.

                  Funny and spot on remark about the Seinfeld episode! Let's hope "Zubi" is not "Babu" -- at least not before we get to try their sandwiches at least once.

                  If he does emphasize the Turkish food, maybe he should consider changing the name of the place, too. "Trans" usually brings with it the connotation of "across" or "to carry". Perhaps he's trying the cross or bridge the Turkish with American culinary traditions in some way?

                2. re: wedgeheadjunkie

                  Hate to be a wise apple, but Greece, Armenia, etc are not in the middle east. It's debatable as to whether Turkey is, too. Greece is in Europe, and Armenia is in the Caucus region. I'm from the middle east, and I thik you'd really be surprised at the difference. I didn't grow up eating dolmas.


              3. You have quite a nose for finding those places in opening week - A La Turca, and now here!

                I've linked below the mention of some other new Turkish restaurants that have opened in the Bay Area (and an Anatolia geography lesson). With the Blue Angels in our skies this weekend, I'm wondering if anyone has tried Anatolian Gyros on Taylor - might be a nice viewing point. I had lunch at Cafe de Pera today...will post soon.


                2 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  There's a new Turkish place opening on West Portal in SF, too. We were walking to Peet's which, by the way, served us burnt (no, not strong, I like strong) coffee, and noticed that what was the French Village Cafe now has a sign painted on the window that says "Turkish and Mediterranean." I don't know whether they are open yet because it was early in the morning when we walked by. Anyone know anything about this place?

                  1. re: Nancy Berry

                    You never know...chowhoundx might be there at the opening bell. (g)

                2. Minor correction:

                  It is "lahmacun". (Note the "h" as the third letter.)

                  The etymology: From Arabic: "meat paste".

                  One of my favorites...

                  I make it at home with tortillas. The trick is to keep the tortillas moist by brushing yogurt on them.


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Ahmet Toprak

                    Hi Ahmet, any new Turkish restaurants open since your last post?

                    The picture below is a sesame bread stuffed with spring onions and lamb that I enjoyed in Flushing NY in July. Sadly, I've recently learned that the food stall has closed. But I took a picture of it because the sesame bread served by this vendor who specialized in the food of Xi'an (China) is identical to the peda bread that A La Turca in SF bakes. Xi'an is the end of the Silk Route, so perhaps it came from points west.


                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      No new Turkish restaurants that I've heard of since the opening of New Kapadokia. A friend of mine who lives in France and owns a Turkish restaurant there is looking for a place around here--he has been "looking" for many years, but he never could raise enough capital to afford the expenses here until he gets established. He now has the backing of a wealthy Turkish entrepreneur from Germany. If we can all look around and find him a modest place to lease--I prefer a South Bay or mid-peninsula location so that he can be close to me-- he will start a new one. -:) He is an excellent cook. I had the best doner kebab in his restaurant in France.

                      As for the Xi'an bread and "pide" (you spelled this as "peda"), I have some things I've read over the years that may shed some light on the similarities of the two:

                      * Scholars think that noodles, flat breads and wontons were first developed in Central Asia. Chinese got the noodles and wonton later.

                      * There was a flow of goods, ideas, and, of course, people from Central Asia in all directions. There was also a flow from the west and the Middle East to China.

                      * The Chinese territory called Xinjian these days ("New Territory") still have Turkish speaking nationalities: Uygur (Chinese call them "weegur", I believe), Kazakh and Uzbek.

                      * Even further east, in Gansu, Qinhai and even in Xi'an there are Turkish-speaking nationalities.
                      See and

                      * Given the perhaps oversimplified picture I drew above, it makes sense to see things including foods of similar nature. I was just looking at some words Western Yugur of Gansu use for various food. They are almost identical to what we have in Turkey:

                      Butter - yagh - yag
                      Milk - sut - sut

                      * Modern Turkish "ravioli" is named "manti". This word is the same as "wonton". "m" at the beginning got changed to "w" when it went to China. Somehow it retained the "m" when it arrived in Korea ("mandoo"). I understand that in Central Asia it is sometimes called "manto" or "mantu".



                      * Life is never simple, of course, and life of the people collectively on earth and its story is even more complex. Here is more elements in this complexity: Starting around 1000's, when Turks arrived in what is now Turkey, they absorbed a lot of things from the cultures already there. Among the new things they acquired were new food ingredients to recipes. There may have been already a flat bread of sorts already there, perhaps developed by the peoples of Anatolia themselves, or adopted by them--before the advent of the Turks-- from Semitic people further south. After all, historians think that wheat was first domesticated somewhere in the Middle East. Flour making implements abound in any archeological dig around this region. So may be "pide" or its variants may have been independently developed and used in this region.

                      * Another interesting thing is the etymology of the word "pide. This word has the same root as the following words that you would easily recognize:
                      "flat", "plate", "place", "pita" and maybe even "pizza" although the dictionaries give a different etymology for it.
                      In other words, "pide" simply means "flat". The word is not Turkish, but most likely Indo-European -- some dictionaries say it is Greek.

                      Well, this was your short answer!

                      (P.S.: You may wish to read some articles on the Turkish language that I wrote about 15 years ago . There is a lot of food related topics covered. See and choose the "Interesting articles on Turkish words" link towards the bottom.