NORTH BEACH GYROS CORNERS THE HUMUS MARKET
By Carol Peterson
North Beach Gyros
701 Union Street x Powell
San Francisco, CA 94133
The coveted restaurant spaces around Washington Square are more in demand than ever. That’s why when the owners of North Beach Gyros saw the location at the corner location at Union and Powell had become available, they quickly signed a lease. The partners had looked all over the City but nothing fit the concept of what they were trying to accomplish, until they found this location. In addition to the corner hot spot, they loved the ethnicity of the neighborhood.
The three owners, Ihsan Akildiz, Salih Guler and Abdurrahman Kaplan are all Kurdish from Turkey but met at a community center in San Francisco. They became friends and decided they had shared so much common experience they would open a restaurant. Ihsan had worked in the kitchen in a 5 star hotel in Turkey, 9 years with Cunard Cruise Line and finally 6 years with Royal Caribbean. Salih has 30 years’ experience in cooking the cuisine that would be their specialty. Abdurrahman brings his financial expertise. Ihsan told me, “I think we fit well in this neighborhood. Not everyone wants to eat Italian every day.”
The first dish I tasted was the Appetizer Combo (12.95). I could have stopped there. Every morsel on the plate was scrumptious. Each item is made in house, a very labor intensive process that shows. The hummus was creamy and rich. The dolma was moist, but not greasy. The sautéed eggplant with sliced cucumber, oregano, parsley and garlic stood out. The delicate falafel was made of deep fried garbanzo beans accompanied by romaine lettuce and tahini sauce. The exquisite babganush dip was made of chopped eggplant, fresh herbs, lemon juice and olive oil. Cacik, a yogurt with diced cucumbers, oregano parsley and garlic combined perfectly with the freshly made pita bread. For a vegetarian, this is the perfect meal and for the quantity and quality, probably the cheapest and best appetizer in North Beach.
The restaurant combines Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine, specializing in the kebabs common to all three cultures. Many kebabs I have had are tough and chewy but not at North Beach Gyros. I tried every one of them and even the chicken breast, which at other places often seems dry, was moist and flavorful as it is marinated overnight. Hands down though, the best of the kebabs is the Adana Kebab (8.50). Served on a skewer, it consisted of ground lamb, peppers and spices charbroiled. The presentation of all these kebabs was beautiful and plentiful. They were accompanied by a large portion of tender, fragrant jasmine rice and, for flavor, small pieces of vermicelli are fried and added to the rice. The addition of chicken stock and butter made this rice much more than an add on to the dish. The plate was ample with a salad, a roasted half tomato and a basket of pita bread.
The gyros are not to be missed. I have had many sloppy, not well prepared ones, but these gyros seemed to have the perfect combination. There was the marinated, slow cooked lamb and beef, thinly sliced, with a creamy yogurt sauce (12.95). This came with rice, salad and pita bread. The same was true for the chicken gyro (11.95). We had three people at this tasting and the appetizer plate and a gyro cut into 3 pieces was plenty of food for our lunch. If you are interested in a Mediterranean mixed grill (16.95), it is 1.5 portions of mixed grilled chicken kebab, lamb kebab, kofte (lamb and beef) kebab and gyros served with rice, salad and pita bread. This also would be a great share meal, as you would be able to taste many of the restaurant’s dishes.
North Beach Gyros is not the place to skip dessert. The Baklava (4.50) is luscious. Ihsan explained why. “It is made in about 20 layers. We coat about 10 layers individually with sugar. Then we finely grind walnuts and pistachio nuts and put them on a couple of layers and start layering the sugared pieces again. Then it is baked. If you were to put a commercial baklava next to ours, the taste test would tell all. This homemade pasty is a tried and true recipe.” I believed every word.
North Beach Gyros is open Monday-Thursday 11am – 10pm; Friday – Saturday 11am – 11pm;
Sunday 11am – 9pm. A great part of their business is take out and free delivery is available over $30. They also cater. They have applied for a wine and beer license and that will be granted in about a month.
I take my hat off to these 3 energetic restaurateurs, who have captured the corner and plan to
give the neighborhood another ethnic taste to enjoy.