A Middle Eastern Boomlet in San Francisco?

No less than three casual Middle Eastern restaurants have opened in the past month in San Francisco: SF Kebab in SOMA, Tahini in the outer Mission and ABC Falafel in Polk Gulch. Is this a trend?

Coincidentally (or not) Eater just published a feature on The 14 Best Middle Eastern Restaurants in San Francisco, though they might want to get a geography lesson from Donald Trump; I don’t think Afghanistan is considered part of the Middlle East.


Al-Masri is listed as “the only Egyptian restaurant in Northern California,”

The owners of Pharaoh’s in the TL would disagree.

How is Al Masri?

I personally would much prefer that than a poke fad…

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I wouldn’t say Tahini is in the “outer Mission” - it’s only a half block south of 24th Street BART.

In any case, I tried it tonight and thought it was quite good. The owner is a former techie of Lebanese/Syrian descent, and this is his first restaurant. We sampled most of the kebab varieties on offer and they were all nice and juicy. The lamb options had good, slightly gamy flavor. For the sides, we went with the “Lebanese” option and these did fit my understanding of the Lebanese hummus style - creamy and balanced. (I tend to prefer more lemony/garlicky styles, but this rendition seemed true to the advertised style.) Pita is made in house; I also liked the pickled turnip/cucumber on the sides platter.

Decent beer selection too. My one suggestion for the owner was that more kebap options would be great, though I realize that stuff like liver/sweetbread kebaps are a tough sell in SF. (I would also love another option for sabich in SF, but ain’t holding my breath despite falafel figuring prominently on the Tahini menu.)


You are right, of course. I didn’t check that street address carefully, and those street numbers don’t really speak to one who seldom finds himself South of the Slot.

How’s the housemade pita? I’ve recently discovered Hamati pita and my family is hooked. It’s a thick style of pita and it’s so great for sandwiches. I buy it at Canyon Market in Glen Park. Now I’d love to try other kinds of fresh pita

Hamati is fantastic. There was an SF Chronicle about it in 2015, I get it at Valencia Farmer’s Market on 24th, but its available at lots of places and apparently restaurants too.

I hope Tahini ups the game at Old Jerusalem— I get OJ’s mossabaka regularly, more for the juice soaked and spice soaked bread underneath, a rival for Zuni Cafe, than the chicken which can be dry. Their kalaya, a lamb dish, is my favorite dish there.

Frena should be on eater’s list.

Much (not all) of what’s on the Eater list isn’t really much good. I don’t think much of Palmyra, Mazzat, A La Turca. Or the horrible Sababa.

Sabich is an Israeli thing, so you’d be pretty unlikely to find it at any of the Arab restaurants. The only place I’ve had it here is Sababa - where it was soggy and flavorless, not helped by their watery over-sweet amba.

I like Palmyra a lot, for what it’s worth. Not only are they the nicest people ever, but their falafel sandwich is cheap and great.

I didn’t think it was so bad - the amba was definitely sweet, but the rest of the ingredients were more or less OK. Not in the same ballpark as Sabich Frishman’s, of course, but definitely not as horrendous as the one I tried at the Aroma in Ben-Gurion Airport.

Sababa’s eggplant is soggy rather than smooth. Amba should be very tart and spicy, with just a touch of sweetness - it’s not supposed to be a sweet sauce. I think Sababa’s is not even recognizable as amba. Salad should be crunchy, not soggy as it is as Sababa.

As with their falafel sandwich, Sababa’s sabich just ends up being a squishy, bland, mess. I don’t know about the airport, but you don’t have to go anywhere special to find great sabich or great falafel anywhere in Israel.

I tried two sandwiches from Tahini last week. Their use of house made pita bread instead of lavash for sandwiches gives them the edge over nearby old Jerusalem, which reserves their pita for other dishes.

I liked both the lamb Shawarma and the super falafel, both of which were tasty and filling. I will have to return for a more careful break down – –. there was so much sauce that it made it difficult to assess the quality of the components. In particular, the lamb got lost in a sea of tahini sauce, the use of which helped tame the crazy amount of raw onion.

I quite enjoyed Jannah (Eater’s #7) near Masonic and Fulton. Some of the dishes I ate were nice and complex, others a bit tame; but the service and atmosphere were reminiscent of an old-school SF dining experience: casual (in a good way), local and friendly.

Agree that in general Eater’s lists are to be taken with several grams of salt, but Jannah is alright and a good option if you’re in the neighborhood.

My suggestion is to go with a friend or three and order meat by the pound (it comes with pita and sides). The advantages of this are that you can try the whole range of meats, and also you can add in bites of the hummus, pickles, etc. according to your own preferred proportions. Also, both times I’ve ordered this way, the bread comes piping hot out of the oven.

I still like Old Jerusalem too, but primarily for vegetarian dishes - the shwarma I’ve tried there wasn’t anywhere near as good as what I’ve had at Tahini. (Admittedly, I haven’t tried OJ’s more distinctive meat dishes like mosakhan and kalaya.)

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Does anyplace in San Francisco serve a Montreal-style “shish ta’ouk”? (It’s actually a chicken shawarma, usually served with garlicked home fries, but the misnomer is an argument for Montrealers.)

Finally had a chance to try Tahini on Mission just South of 24th. We ordered the super falafel and the beef/lamb kefta platter. The falafel sandwich did have a bit too much sauce as someone else mentioned on this thread. But overall I thought it was awesome! The falafels were really herbaceous and freshly cooked. And those cooked to order pitas are great! Thinner than Hamati pita, but held up pretty well.
The kefta was really juicy and flavorful. We got the platter Lebanese style and the array of salads was great, especially the baba ganoush. Really a great lunch.

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I am curious- what are the regional variations in style?

Well, I don’t know that the names of the styles are totally specific to geographical locations. I think it’s just a way to differentiate the plate set-ups. “La Mision” , “The Middle Easterner”, “The Greek” and “The Classic.”

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I wish!!!