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New suggestions for shawerma in San Francisco?

j
jflesh Jun 27, 2006 03:48 AM

I've been consistently disappointed in the San Francisco shawerma offerings, and am interested in additional recommendations within the city. The Truly Med on 16th is passable and fresh tasting, but both the chicken and the lamb shawerma always seem bland and underseasoned, with too much acidity from onion. Surely not the "Best of the Bay", despite the Guardian's claim some years back... Valencia Ali Baba's is even less appealing -- bland and soaking wet with tahini (a huge shame given that I live just a block away). Have also tried Joe's on 24th, which offers many fine and simple sandwiches, though the shawerma was less impressive. Visitted some place in the Sunset but can't recall the name. Minimal decor and a largely Arab-speaking clientele, but the chicken shawerma failed to excite (recall it being very lemony, but this was a couple years ago). And Blue Front on Haight St is now offering a chicken shawerma, but after trying it once, I prefer their "chicken gyro", which is shawerma-like and comes with good garlicky yogurt.
Their "shawerma" offering was dry and stringy.

But none of these options has left any lasting positive impression.
And I know shawerma can be some much better. Have thoroughly enjoyed both Zankou and Marouch in Los Angeles, and Phoenicia in suburban Houston, and I can't believe SF doesn't have a competetive shawerma offering.

Glanced over some earlier threads and am encouraged by the
comments on "Goood Frikin' Chicken" on Mission / 30th, even though
I would not immediately associate shawerma with a restaurant of that name. Any additional comments on this place, particularly the shawerma?

And if anyone has additional suggestions for shawerma within
San Francisco, I'd be very interested to hear them. Feel like
I'm running out of options...

J.

  1. Robert Lauriston Jun 27, 2006 04:09 AM

    The Goood Frikin' Chicken guy has some connection with Truly Med.

    1. Absonot Jun 27, 2006 04:25 AM

      Don't get the wrong idea from the name. It's as authentic as the ones you mentioned and I love their chicken schawerma. And I agree - the Ali Baba is always too soggy!

      1. z
        zippo Jun 27, 2006 04:57 AM

        There is a new schewarma/gyro place on New Montgomery between Mission and Howard next to Working Girl Cafe and Chipotle, across the street from Lee's Deli. I have not tried it yet though have passed by scores of times. Also, can't recall any posts here about it. Has been open about 5 months. Anyone tried it?

        1 Reply
        1. re: zippo
          lucymom Jul 27, 2006 05:09 PM

          i've tried the chicken shwarma here and it was less than mediocre. i was so disappointed that i haven't been back since.

        2. Melanie Wong Jun 27, 2006 07:28 AM

          Any intelligence on the newish place on Polk in the vicinity of Swan Oyster Depot? I think it's called Mediterranean something or other...

          1. Candice Jun 27, 2006 04:47 PM

            I was underwhelmed by GFC (dry chicken, and they were out of a lot of stuff when I was in there) and the name annoys me. Agreed that Ali Baba is lacking, maybe someone can speak up about the places in the Loin? I haven't tried them yet.

            1. rabaja Jun 27, 2006 05:07 PM

              The shawerma at GFC is not your typical shawerma. Although I like it very much, it is not what I think of when I'm craving one. It's more like a packet, folded over and filled with meat and pickles (tip: ask for extra pickles!) with a garlic sauce on the side which you really must use for the whole experience. Why don't they put it inside? It would be much easier! Anyway, the pickles are a huge indication that their shawerma are different. Good, but different.
              The shawerma I miss and dream about to this day was the one you could get at Truly Mediterranean in North Beach. Went out of business years ago, and I haven't tried it's sister restaurants. The bread there was freshly griddled, the meat was well seasoned and the garlic sauce balanced everything out.
              I've tried a couple places on Polk, some better than others, most recently tried the place across from Long Life Books, I forget the name. Very nice owner/chef, innovative twists such as fresh red cabbage salad in with the meat in the shawerma, not exactly a replacement for my ideale but good...shawerma plate was good as well.
              By the way, just tried the Rotiserie Chicken plate at GFC, it was so good, with very moist meat. The sides are pedestrian, yet satisfying, i.e., salad w/ dried herb vinaigrette and baked beans!

              4 Replies
              1. re: rabaja
                j
                jflesh Jun 28, 2006 09:03 PM

                Just tried the GFC chicken shawerma for lunch earlier today, and agree that their shawerma isn't exactly what I had in mind
                when ordering -- which isn't to say it was necessarily bad.

                The chicken was moist and fresh tasting -- dripping even --
                but the packaging was a little strange. I'm almost certain this
                was served in a flour tortilla (rather than pita or lavash).
                The tortilla appeared to have been buttered and grilled, and the end result was similar in texture to a quesadilla (no cheese though obviously, but the option exists on the menu, which also countered expectation). The chicken was mixed with
                pickles, wrapped up and grilled. Pickles were surprisingly tastey. But the garlic yogurt side, though good, could have been a bit more potent. I had to focus to taste the garlic once the sauce went onto the sandwich. I think I would've enjoyed the lunch more if I'd asked for extra pickles and extra garlic sauce.

                Sides were okay. The rice was tastey, but slightly oversalted, and the starter salad was WAY oversalted and covered in a dressing indistinguishable from grocery store Kraft Italian.

                The restaurant interior was clean and quiet, and a nice place
                to do some reading for lunch. And my waitress -- young and Middle Eastern -- was very attentive and friendly.

                Am thinking I'll surely return to GFC (which isn't too far from where I live), but will likely try one of the other chicken options (like rotisserie), and keep looking for shawerma at other places.

                1. re: jflesh
                  j
                  Joan Kureczka Jul 28, 2006 01:33 PM

                  We love the Mosakhan, which is also done up in the tortilla. Chopped chicken with onions, pinenuts, sumac and olive oil. Definitely haven't seen it anywhere else in SF, and it seems to be a variation on a traditional Arabic country dish. I've had the chicken shwarma too and prefer this.

                2. re: rabaja
                  Melanie Wong Jul 14, 2006 05:11 AM

                  The place across from Long Life Books is Meditterranean (sic) Spirit, 1303 Polk St, SF, 415-673-4900.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    t
                    Tobias Aug 26, 2007 07:34 PM

                    I happened by there the other day and had an excellent lamb kofta wrap. The woman cooking there was remarkably friendly and was apologetic for the relatively long wait. I didn't mind and was happy to have some great food. I intend to go back.

                3. m
                  Mick Ruthven Jun 27, 2006 07:45 PM

                  You shawerma (shawarma?)-loving people should trek to Petaluma on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday which is when Aram's Cafe in downtown Petaluma has their version on special (it's not on the regular menu). Don't forget to ask for their red pepper sauce to put on it (they may forget to bring it).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Mick Ruthven
                    Melanie Wong Jun 27, 2006 07:52 PM

                    Yep, and Aram's is made with all lamb.

                    I have another suggestion in the North Bay --- Small World in downtown Napa. It's made with beef tri-tip and roasted in the oven rather than a spit, but you can't argue with the flavor. Love the spiced onions here.

                    Have also had good shawerma in the South Bay, but none in the City since Truly Med closed in North Beach. I am hopeful that the 'hounds will turn up some.

                  2. Big Larry Jun 27, 2006 08:13 PM

                    I am a fan of Yummas.

                    Located on Irving in the Inner Sunset it offers a good lamb/beef version. It's a wrap on lavash though, so if you're looking for more traditional it may not be for you.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Big Larry
                      hatless Jul 15, 2006 01:54 PM

                      There's nothing necessarily inauthentic about shawarma on lavash. Versions of shawarma are served in a pretty wide swath of the Mideast.

                      1. re: Big Larry
                        m
                        Mick Ruthven Aug 18, 2006 03:30 AM

                        I'm a dissenter from that opinion. I stopped at Yumma's tonight and had a lamb shawerma and thought it didn't have much flavor or substance. It certainly didn't do the job for me. Maybe I'm spoiled by the one at Aram's in Petaluma.

                        1. re: Big Larry
                          boomer13 Aug 28, 2007 05:58 PM

                          I will 2nd the vote for Yummas. We are used to the middle eastern seasoning and look for it in the meat. Theirs has the cinammon or cardomon that gives it a little bit more taste than just garlic.

                          Also I like the falafels at Sunrise in the Sunset district. I can't remember if the shwarma was good there since we always get the falafels to go and assemble our own pittas a home. A great deal and fun/convenient for parties.

                        2. j
                          jkatzman Jun 27, 2006 08:20 PM

                          Taboun on Parnassus (Judah) at Stanyan serves great schwarma. They have both chicken & lamb. I prefer it with some extra hot sauce. Their falafel deluxe is great as well. If you are getting takeout, you can always call ahead 5-10 minutes to cut your wait.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jkatzman
                            Lori SF Aug 26, 2007 06:55 PM

                            I agree. I do know the owner because this is a neighborhood spot and I know they use quality ingredients. Use to go to Yumma's on Irving don't know how it is since Taboun opened. The veggie platter is my other favorite at Taboun.

                          2. k
                            Kmanlove Jun 27, 2006 10:08 PM

                            There is another Ali Baba's in South San Francisco. I don't know if it is related to the one on Valencia, but it is fabulous. I worked in SSF for 6 months and at least twice a week I would get a plate of hummus with their lamb or chicken schwarma on it. Best middle eastern I have had in SF. It is at 121 S Linden Ave. Highly recommended.

                            Two other things:
                            1) To the poster who mentioned pickles in the sandwhich from GFC. That is quite traditional in Israel at least. You always get pickles in sandwhiches, schwarma or felafel.
                            2) Amba???? The best thing about getting schwarma in Israel is the Yemenite mango condiment called amba, a bright yellow, sweet and spicy and funky spread that is perfect on schwarma. Anyone ever see it in SF?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Kmanlove
                              ChowFun_derek Jul 14, 2006 03:39 PM

                              Amba is the "gift" of the Jews of Babylonia (later Iraq)...definitely an aquired taste! Salty/sweet...

                            2. a
                              abe1329 Jul 15, 2006 03:15 PM

                              How about Noe Valley Deli? Do they have schwarma? They have some good Middle Eastern dishes.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: abe1329
                                j
                                jflesh Jul 24, 2006 10:50 PM

                                I used to live on 24th St a few years back and tried the
                                Noe Valley Deli shawerma then (but am not sure if it was a standard menu item given the make-shift "white paper and scotch tape" menu they had posted).

                                Recall being thoroughly underwhelmed: chicken was bland and the
                                tahini was applied so liberally the sandwich became a wet soupy mess after about three bites.

                                But I did enjoy some of NVD's simple sandwiches (e.g. turkey, roasted chicken). Haven't been back there in a couple years though.

                                J.

                              2. f
                                Fig Newton Jul 26, 2006 10:40 PM

                                San Francisco does *not* have shawerma like Los Angeles -- it is something that I had to give up searching for long ago up here. That said, my favorite in the area is Yumma's on Irving in the Sunset between 8th and 9th Avenues.

                                When you referred to a place in the Sunset with minimal decor, I have a feeling you were referring to the *other* place in the Sunset called Sunrise Deli (on Irving out near 23rd or so) -- they have great falafels, but I don't love anything else there.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Fig Newton
                                  j
                                  jflesh Jul 26, 2006 11:19 PM

                                  Bummer conclusion on "SF vs LA" shawerma offerings, but
                                  definitely corroborated by what I've experienced so far.

                                  Will give Yumma's a shot soon per your recommendation -- do they offer both lamb AND chicken?

                                  "Sunrise Deli" is ringing a bell, and I do recall
                                  having to drive out a ways to find it. This may very well
                                  have been the place I tried... May verify too while I'm
                                  out that way.

                                  Thanks,
                                  J.

                                  1. re: jflesh
                                    Melanie Wong Jul 27, 2006 04:02 AM

                                    Here's a recent thread on Sunrise Deli for more information. My experience was only so-so.

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    If you're ever in San Jose, I can make a strong rec there.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                                      j
                                      jflesh Jul 27, 2006 05:07 PM

                                      Thanks for the extra Sunrise info. Suspect I may have had an underwhelming chicken shawerma experience there too a couple years back.

                                      And yeah, I'm in San Jose a few times a month for work, and occasionally have lunch out. Would definitely be interested in any strong recommendations there. My knowledge of SJ dining and geography is limitted given
                                      the infrequency of my visits.

                                      What do you suggest?

                                      Thanks,
                                      J.

                                      1. re: jflesh
                                        Melanie Wong Jul 27, 2006 05:40 PM

                                        I was bowled over by the shawarma at Just Laziz. Mind you, it's made with all beef. At the time, the owner apologized for the pita bread and said he'd soon be making his own. So, it may be an even better version now.

                                        Just Laziz -
                                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/39649#188885

                                        That said, the 'hound who pointed me to Just Laziz tried the Palms and puts that at the top of his list.

                                        Steve on Palms -
                                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                2. j
                                  jmarek Jul 27, 2006 07:57 PM

                                  Anyone remember Just Like Home on Irving near 20th? I remember it as the best shawerma in the city. Has the owner moved elsewhere? Anyone know of a similar place (SF or East Bay)?

                                  1. j
                                    jaybee Jul 27, 2006 10:32 PM

                                    Melanie was asking about Mediterranean Spirit on Polk. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE patronize them. They're not busy enough from what I've seen, and once you've been there, you will understand why they must not close.

                                    Their shawarma is good but I don't know that it's special. I don't mean to hijack this thread, but this is the only place outside of Israel or the Palestinian Authority that I've seen making real hummus. If you've been to the middle east, then you know what I'm talking about. If not, there is no way to describe real heavy as lead, oil laden hummus, except that what you're getting here ain't it. They have some nice but unspectacular fish dishes, and other regional favorites but this place is all about the hummus.

                                    I don't know the owner's name, but he's a really sweet Palestinian guy; his wife makes the tougher dishes like Musachan, and if it's not on the menu, they'll be glad to make special orders with some advance notice. Since my family is from the region, I've spoken to the owners extensively. They know how much I love their hummus, and they always give us a free plate, accepting only a hearty "shukran" in return. Talk to the owners. They're really excited to meet anyone who knows real middle eastern food, or the area in general.

                                    For simple, exquisitely spiced middle eastern food, pay Mediterranean Spirit a visit. Order the best hummus this side of Abu Ghosh and Salat Turkiye, and keep the pita coming!

                                    jb

                                    1. j
                                      jflesh Jul 30, 2006 10:23 PM

                                      Drove out to Yumma's yesterday afternoon and had their chicken shawerma (w/ garlic yogurt) and a side of tabouleh.

                                      Shawerma was indeed pretty damn good, with well-seasoned chicken and onion that was not overly salted, and fresh tasting tomato and diced cucumber rolled up and grilled.
                                      Their garlic yogurt left me wanting something stronger, but
                                      overall I was impressed. Probably enjoyed this shawerma
                                      more than any other I've had in the city, and I'll definitely be going back.

                                      Tabouleh was incredibly acidic and citrusy, with a salinity that rivaled sea water. Would probably skip that in favor of another side during future visits. But this isn't of much consequence. The shawerma experience was solid.

                                      Kudos to those who recommended this.

                                      J.

                                      1. wearybashful Aug 1, 2006 09:02 PM

                                        I just tried the new Pita Cafe in Rohnert Park, right by the Rohnert Park Expressway exit off 101, on Commerce Blvd. in the Northbay strip mall. All I had was lamb shawerma in lavosh with salad. It wasn't spiced exactly as others I've had, it tasted a bit of cinnamon. But I could see it being sliced off a spit and the quality of the lamb was fantastic. The salad was excellent too, containing all sorts of little greens.

                                        I thought it would be a fast-food sort of place, but no, it had tables with white cloths and sit-down service. The website is www.pitacafe.net

                                        The waitress said the cooks were Israeli and Syrian, which would explain a mix of styles and the olive branch in the logo.

                                        1. j
                                          jflesh Aug 3, 2006 04:45 AM

                                          A seperate thread was started to discuss Mediterranean Spirit, and discussion of various menu items can be found here:

                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                          1. s
                                            ShawSeek Aug 26, 2007 01:26 PM

                                            J, I feel your shawerma pain. I'm from Montreal which has a huge Lebanese population and an onslaught of shawerma offerings. Most shawerma places in Bay Area are simply pathtetic. I tried the Great Frikkin Chicken yesterday, and I was quite disappointed. They use tortillas (not Pita), and they adamantly refused to change to pita bread.

                                            If you're willing to driving a little south , there's a great place: "Alhana, 25 37th Ave, San Mateo." They are the most honest shawerma attempt I've had in Bay Area, albeit you have to ask for the "special" garlic sauce (not the yogurty one, but the actual garlic paste). And he doesn't cook his chicken on a tree, but instead grills it. Asides, given the offerings in Bay Area, quite good.

                                            The place you refer to in Sunset I believe is "Yumma's" That was disappointing. Ditto for truly med. Ali Baba is simply below par. Oh there's another place in the mission, you might like: "Old Jerusalem Cafe" (near mission & cesar chavez). Not a standard issue shawarma (it's not in lavash bread, again not in pita bread). But they do a great job with it.

                                            Also a non-standard but passing shawerma is Aladdin on Bush & Polk.

                                            I'm going to LA for labor day weekend and you will find me camping outside of Zankou and likes...

                                            Shawerma Seeker

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: ShawSeek
                                              Dave MP Aug 26, 2007 10:49 PM

                                              Mediterranean Spirit is also on the corner of Bush & Polk - I have never tried Aladdin. You should try the shawerma at Mediterranean Spirit. The owners are Palestinian, and the style is different from what you describe at the place in San Mateo, but I definitely prefer it to other places I've been to in SF (for example, Ali Baba). I'd be curious to hear how you think it compares to other places you've tried.

                                              Dave MP

                                              -----
                                              Mediterranean Spirit
                                              1303 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                              1. re: ShawSeek
                                                Gary Soup Aug 27, 2007 11:21 AM

                                                I was in Montreal recently for a few days (I visit annually). There was an Amir nearby where I was staying and I thought it was great, for a chain (the chicken shawerma, a.k.a. shish taouk was especially tasty). One question, though. Is it typical for Lebanese shawerma places to have beef and chicken, but no lamb (which I love)?.

                                                On a different note, do you know of anyplace in the Bay Area that sells merguez sausage similar to what is found in Montreal, either on-sale or off-sale? Fatted Calf makes one that tastes similar, but they cheat by adding pork (and of course are very pricey).

                                                1. re: ShawSeek
                                                  dhoffman1421 Aug 29, 2007 01:40 PM

                                                  Thanks for this tip ShawSeek, I had lunch at Alhana's today. I have never had a Shawerma with piclkles. Different and still good. Very satisfying. The Falafel plate my dad has was only so-so so this is not their strength. The Chicken Shawerma was one of the best I have had around here.

                                                2. jillyju Aug 27, 2007 11:02 AM

                                                  I've been meaning to post this for the last two weeks, so this is a timely thread. I had lamb and beef Doner Kebab (aka Shawarma) at Sultan Kebab for lunch one day. Saw a line out the door, didn't know anything about the place, so just took a chance.

                                                  I am not an expert on shawarma, having had it only a few times, but it was a plentiful plate, with homemade bread (not pita), a tasty salad, and meat with lots of nicely carmelized bits. The lamb flavor wasn't too gamey, and I liked it better than the beef, which I found a little dry. Overall, pretty good, and I'd go back to explore more of the menu.

                                                  Sultan Kebab
                                                  637 Larkin
                                                  SF 94109
                                                  931-8444
                                                  http://www.sultankebabsf.com

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: jillyju
                                                    Melanie Wong Aug 28, 2007 12:02 AM

                                                    Döner kebap is the turkish version. Thanks for the update. That address was formerly Adana Kebab, Sahara, and before those two, Gyro Kebab.

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