Albayk San Mateo - for all your shawarma, falafel, hummus, babaganoush and kibbeh needs!
Recently a few of us gathered to sample the menu at Albayk in San Mateo (thanks to pilinut for telling us about this place). The location is a former Quiznos so there's a pizza oven - the owner, Jamal, is trying to retrofit it to bake his own pita.
We shared a meze platter and a lamb/beef shawarma platter plus mint tea, a couple of desserts and Turkish coffee. I thought everything showed careful preparation. Dishes were very flavorful, nicely plated and served. I will add more specifics plus a few photos later today or tomorrow.
But in the meantime, I've started this post and hope the others will add their comments!
Here's a link to their website: http://www.albayk.com/
Albayk came as a delightful surprise. Dropping in for a quick peek, already laden with take-out from another restaurant, I saw two shawarma rotisseries, loaded to the hilt, one with chicken breast, the other with layer upon layer of beef and lamb slices, half a meter deep. REAL shawarma. Not that gray industrial meat putty that has usurped the name.
Just the aroma of the roasting meat was temptation enough, but the opportunity for real shawarma was not to be missed and I walked out of there with twice as much food as we could eat. No regrets. Far from it. The chicken shawarma was not bad, but not good enough to overturn my prejudice against chicken breast in general. But the beef and lamb shawarma was very good indeed: nicely seasoned morsels, just moist enough to trickle a bit of pinkish juice into the yellow pilaf under it.
As RWCFoodie said, the food was clearly made with care. Even the salad that accompanies the platters had the benefit of attention to quality and preparation: fresh greens, chunks of sweet tomato, slices of onion, freshly cooked garbanzos, an assortment of olives, and a nicely balanced vinaigrette perked up with sumac. The hummus tasted like it had been made with freshly cooked chickpeas, rather than the metallic-tasting canned stuff.
The lunch with RWCFoodie, et al., a couple of weeks later started inauspiciously, with the parking lot in front of the restaurant closed for re-asphalting, tar fumes spewing into the air. Fortunately, the wind was blowing in the right direction, and only the merest whisp of tar could be detected in Albayk. The shawarma was as toothsome as before, but it was the mezze platter that I found even more delightful. In addition to hummus, there was a baba ghanouj made smoky with grilled eggplant. The tabbouleh was refreshing without being acidic. But for me, the thin-shelled kibbeh and the homemade falafel stole the show, both were perfectly fried: crisp and greaseless on the outside, but light and tender on the inside, and tasting fresh and true to their ingredients. (I've had falafel and kibbeh on the brain since that lunch and will probably not be able to hold out much longer.)
We finished lunch with a baklava, homemade basboussa with coconut, and cardamom flavored Arabic coffee.
The food here was quite good as was the feel of the place and its' gregarious owner...the food was extremely fresh tasting...with clear clean flavors, not overly spiced..but balanced enough that all of the component flavors shined..best hummous I've had in a long time!...Silky smooth and flavorful..the shwarma (lamb and beef) was not overcooked..so juicy and delicious...the felafel was great ..not pre-fried so crisp..almost delicate...the eggplant was smokey..just the way I like it..how great to have an additional eatery in San Mateo to go to!...we were so pleasantly stuffed, we couldn't make it for tacos at our next planned spot...after this meal, I didn't care..I can't wait to return!!!
Tried out Albayk for dinner one evening. They have a Check-In Deal on Yelp - 6 FREE falafels if you buy a Wrap, we got a plate but still got the deal.
Small restaurant in a strip mall with a 7-11, parking is tight. Saw signs for Chicken Sharwarma Combo comes with fries & drink $7.99; Kefta Kabab Wrap Combo $7.99 w/ fries & drink.
B. got the Chicken Sharwarma Plate $10.50 - bread, rice, hummus or babaghanouj, salad, & chicken chunks. I found the chicken a bit dry, hummus was fine, salad - ok, rice was ok.
Side of Hummus $4.50 - small plate of hummus, some olive oil in the middle, some garbanzo beans too. Pita was warm & on the side.
Babaghannouj (eggplant) $5.75 - tasty, smoky egglant. I liked it.
Falafels - B. thought they were just ok, they weren't freshly fried when he got them. Tahini sauce on the side.
Ask for Garlic Sauce - it's very strong garlic paste & white! Makes all the dishes tasty!
Hot Mint Tea - just a tea bag w/ some mint in the glass. Nothing special.
Charged the meal.
Separate bathrooms in the back.
The owner was very cordial and waited on me himself. I asked for a non-soda beverage and he said he'd whip up doogh. This is a slightly salty yogurt and mint drink served over ice, and not carbonated here.
Besides hummus, I ordered a side of falafel, which were fried to order. Very crunchy, well-seasoned, and accompanied with an herbed tahini sauce, they were great. I also doused them with some of the excellent housemade hot sauce. That's when I was glad to have the milky doogh to quench the flames.
The anticipated housebaked pita hasn't happened yet, but he promised, soon.