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Any good cheap souvlaki in SF proper?

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Ex-Montreal native homesick for Greek food in the Bay Area...

I've not found a passable gyro/souvlaki joint in San Francisco since moving here. Is there just not a large Greek community in the city?

The ubiquitous San Francisco souvlaki is something like disgusting cafeteria style mystery meat, cheap iceberg lettuce and bottled ranch dressing on a stale pita folded over like a taco. Unacceptable!

Is there any hope for a real souvlaki/gyro pita in this city or will this pervasive lunch staple found on every corner back home be something to savor only on return visits East from now on?

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  1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/971167

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Melanie, what was in the pita exactly? I see what looks like feta, cubed pork(?), tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions? The tzaziki looks a bit runny and pita looks a bit thin (not sure what to make of the feta) but so far I guess it's the best example I've seen in the city. Could you describe the tzaziki sauce; was it very garlicky? No pepperonicinis offered?

      1. re: OliverB

        No idea, I have not been there, just offering a pointer to a discussion that you missed. I suggest that you post your questions to that thread and then those who have tried the place can answer you.

        1. re: OliverB

          Does not look good or cheap!

      2. Not SF proper, I'm afraid, but Simply Greek, with locations in Berkeley, Oakland, and Pleasanton, has what you want: chunks of real pork, chicken, lamb or beef--not the mystery gyro slabs (but they're available if you like).

        http://www.simply-greek.com

        1. Are you looking for pita made to order or just not stale?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I'm looking for fresh, thick, pillowy soft pita bread, like the following examples:

            http://s3.amazonaws.com/foodspotting-...

            http://s3.amazonaws.com/foodspotting-...

            http://s3.amazonaws.com/foodspotting-...

            https://irs2.4sqi.net/img/general/wid...

            NOT the flat, thin, stale, doughy tasting generic stuff that every single place in SF seems to use.

            1. re: OliverB

              Just curious--- do any Greek places make bread in house in North America? Most Turkish places do around here, and you might find greater happiness with their doner/shawerma than with gyro/souvlaki at Greek places.

              Oh yuk, here's a picture of the mystery meat.

              Kronos Frozen Gyrokone Traditional Beef and Lamb Cone 10 Pound http://www.foodservicedirect.com/prod...

              Mystery meat background: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6044...

              1. re: hyperbowler

                Pathos in Berkeley makes pita fresh to order. Kokkari might.

                Bread made to order is common at Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Afghan, and Turkish places.

          2. I have given up on good souvlaki in the Bay Area. If you find a good one please let us know.

            The best ones I remember eating in Greece are not overflowing with meat but the meat that's there is very moist. The pita bread is thick puffy, naan like, but also has a slightly charred smokey exterior and is sometimes dusted with paprika. Should have tangy garlicky tzatziki, onions and tomatoes. Haven't eaten anything here that really captures the magic of good souvlaki.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Ridge

              I've had it with fresh sliced cucumbers too, which is quite nice. Greek pepperoncini on the side are a must too.

              1. re: Ridge

                The best souvlaki I've had in the Bay Area is the al pastor at Taqueria San Jose. You'd have to bring your own pitas.

              2. Doesn't that Middle Eastern deli on Telegraph across from Pill Hill make their own pita? I remember it as being pillowy and especially good. Do they have souvlaki too? I'm sure someone can fill in the name on which I have blanked out.

                Oasis?

                4 Replies
                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                  I doubt that a Middle Eastern deli would make good souvlaki.

                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                    That's Oasis Food Market. The house-made pita are the best I've found short of being made to order, sometimes they're still warm. The shawarma is pretty good and 100% lamb instead of the bland lamb-beef combo most Greek places do.

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6482...

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      It looks great for schwarma and falafel but I don't see the souvlaki connection.

                      1. re: OliverB

                        To me, shawarma and gyros are as different as Greek coffee and Turkish coffee.

                  2. What meats are used for Gyros in Montreal?

                    Nomenclature for sliced meats on a vertical spit, mystery meat not withstanding:

                    Greek = gyro = various meats= tzatziki sauce on pita

                    Middle East = shawerma = various meats but not pork = various sauces, typically tahini in the US

                    Turkish = doner = various meats but not pork

                    Mexico = al pastor = pork

                    Mexico = arabes = pork on tacos or pita like bread

                    Tons of variations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doner_kebab

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      Cubed lamb (and pork at the cheaper fast food spots) is the most common meat found at almost every Greek resto and hole-in-the-wall in the city. Chicken and shaved lamb souvlaki, carved off the spit.

                      1. re: OliverB

                        I thought gyros = shawerma and souvlaki = kebab.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          To further complicate things, Montreal has an odd way of referring to chicken shawarma as shish taouk. It's come to be interchangeably defined as any and all chicken pita wraps (shaved off a spit or brochette) sold at any of the countless Middle Eastern lunch counters throughout the island. If you order shawarma in the city, you'll be getting marinated beef or lamb; sometimes carved from a spindle and sometimes in the form of a kebab.

                          1. re: OliverB

                            There is also the complication of the most common form of gyro in the US. I am not certain but my impression is that the typical ground meat gyro common in the US is an American thing. I hate it. Too heavy and bland. In Greece gyro is similar to shawarma. I still remember a lamb gyro I had in Crete many years ago. Amazing.

                            1. re: Ridge

                              The mass-produced mystery-meat logs are an American thing:

                              http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/din...

                              1. re: Ridge

                                Yes, I'm almost sure that the seasoned ground meat slabs originated with Kronos, the Chicago-based Greek food distributor. I don't think I've ever seen it in Europe.

                                Have you tried the souvlakis at Simply Greek, ridge? You might not like the pita, but the meat is excellently seasoned and grilled. I usual get the plate, not the sandwich.

                                ed: Robert slipped with similar information. I thought the name was Krinos, but apparently not.

                                1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                  Haven't tried Simply Greek yet but will definitely check them out.

                      2. It's not Greek but Arabian Nights has kababs with fresh house made pita (and I mean real pita like you described).
                        I've had both excellent, and mediocre meals there.

                        There's also Palmyra, which is also Middle Eastern kabab, but might take care of a craving at least.

                        I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Kokkari. I think it's overrated, but it has devotees, and it's probably okay for souvlaki. They treat the pita as if it's gold, but it's made in house at least.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Of those restaurants I've only tried Palmyra and it was absolutely terrible. Again not Greek though, which is really what I was looking for. I guess I'll just wait until I fly home to Montreal.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            sugartoof, Kokkari is definitely not cheap. The OP requested "cheap".

                            1. re: Fowler

                              Agree. The souvlaki is around $33, which is a bit outrageous. They also seem to be serving a really nice country bread instead of pita, but if you want pita like the OP mentioned, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's the best version of the dish I've had in SF, but it's still hard to endorse.

                              1. re: sugartoof

                                You bet. It is the best version I too have had in SF but we probably both agree it is very different than the street food version the OP is searching for. Also, the souvlaki at Kokkari is probably made with some very expensive lamb from Sonoma whereas some of the street vendor versions I have had in other countries are comprised of not really lamb but the older mutton. Some actually prefer mutton to lamb.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  " it is very different than the street food version the OP is searching for."

                                  Is it? I didn't get the sense the OP was looking for street food. We're probably in agreement though, and it's just phrasing. The Kokkari version is kind of silly, in that they're treating it like it's filet mignon, but it's pretty standard. It should have rice, and maybe another piece of meat on the skewer, but it's not too far off.

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    " I didn't get the sense the OP was looking for street food. "

                                    I'm sure you are right. When the OP said they were looking for the kind of souvlaki that could be found on every street corner back home I thought they were speaking of street food. I should have asked them to clarify.

                                2. re: sugartoof

                                  A $33 souvlaki? That beats the $4 piece of toast as a talking point.

                                  1. re: sunnyside

                                    Kokkari's lamb shank is $32 and the lamb chops are $42. That's in line with other upscale places with downtown SF locations. Boulevard charges $38 for a lamb T-bone.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Souvlaki is still $33.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        $11 for the souvlaki and $22 for the atmosphere and service.

                            2. You might try Mezes. They have both gyros and souvlaki on the menu. I haven't tried either but everything I've had there was very good.

                              1. There's a new place called Ultimate Souvlaki. I guess the owner Bobby Gekas had a stand at the Santa Rosa farmers market?

                                1. Orexi has legit Greek food, served by real Greeks with real Greek accents. Really tasty, though not as inexpensive as back in Canada.

                                  Orexi - http://www.orexisf.com
                                  243 W Portal Ave., San Francisco, CA 94127

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: dpifko

                                    I've been curious about that place.

                                    There's also Souvla in Hayes Valley that opened recently. Looks like a modern/casual concept but maybe the food is good? Can't recall if it's been mentioned yet.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9711...

                                  2. Check out my recent post on North Beach Gyros at Powell and Union. Great pita (although it doesn't split).