I had my first experience with a kebab shop while celebrating my son’s 18th birthday week in Dublin, Ireland, three years ago. There seemed to be a kebob or curry shop on every corner, similar to the plethora of taco shops in San Diego. It was a new exotic and exciting late night food option after the pubs or clubs and really hit the spot. Of course, it was old hat to my son who had spent a good amount of time in the UK growing up. They have a reputation as an after party, get-your-munchies-on kind of place and I will admit they succeeded in filling that need at the time.
Fast-forward to the Kebab Shop in Encinitas, which is based on the traditional kebab shops of Europe, which tend to be small, hole-in-the-wall storefronts with menus limited to donor kebabs, shawarmas and fries. This place is not open past 10 p.m., so I don’t see it as the after-party type of place. This was going to be a new, more refined kebab experience.
The Kebab Shop has taken that concept and broadened the appeal, upscaling it a bit by adding freshly prepared salads, shish kebab plates, Iskender kebabs, saffron rice, falafel and delicious baklava. They like to call it California Mediterranean with a Euro Turkish influence, which ironically is what I came up with in my head before coming across it on their website. Great minds … ha.
Speaking of the Turks, as a result of their migration to Germany and other European countries, it was their kebab shops that got the worldwide kebab thing going and they can now be found in most major urban markets in Europe and North America.
First off, there was no drinking involved in the research for this column. While it was a Sunday afternoon full of football playoff games that could have involved tossing back a couple beers, I wanted to do the kebab thing with a clear mind and uncluttered palate.
We started with the lamb shawarma, which is served sandwich-style on crusty torta-style bread with fresh veggies and a creamy garlic yogurt sauce. It is also available with chicken and falafel. It’s a great alternative to a burger or Mexican food and is filling but not to the point of weighing you down.
Next up was a doner kebab, which is again, either chicken lamb or falafel wrapped in flatbread and a similar creamy yogurt sauce that can be spiced up. We went with the falafel and loved the crunchy nuggets surrounded by veggies and sauce. A doner box is also available minus the flatbread. The doners and shawarmas were both $6.79, a great value for the quality and portion.
Shish Kebab plates are available with salmon, grilled veggies, chicken, beef or shrimp. We went for the shrimp and loved the grilled flavor. Two sides are available per plate, so we opted for the saffron rice, which was light and flavorful and the very refreshing cucumber dill salad. It was difficult picking from the really appealing salad selection, which included bebe caprese, Algerian eggplant, hummus, tabouli, minted orzo zucchini, Andalucía carrots, macaroni salad, chopped Greek salad and green lentil and walnut. They all looked really fresh and nicely prepared and were $3.99 for a small and $8.99 for three salads.
The Iskender Kebab is a Turkish favorite and one of the better values on the menu at $8.59 as it really is a huge portion. It’s thinly sliced lamb over warm pita bread cut into small squares and drizzled with brown butter, fresh tomato sauce and served with creamy lebneh yogurt and fresh herbs. Ours also came with an oversized grilled pepper that looked like a large jalapeno, it was a nice touch and we tore it up and mixed it in with the dish.
Bottled beer is available along with cane sugar-based Mexican and regular sodas. The only dessert option I saw was baklava and it was sweet and delicious. It’s a nice looking space and the crew is well versed on the menu.
I would definitely add the Kebab Shop to your list of North County options to keep your restaurant mix fresh. They are located at 127 N. El Camino Real by Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s. For more information including other locations, visit kebabshop.com.
David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative, an Encinitas based integrated marketing agency. He can be reached at [email protected]