Influenced by Arabic, Lebanese, Mediterranean – even Moroccan and Georgian cuisines (the latter’s Adjara region on the Black Sea Coast was under Ottoman control for several centuries), vibrant spices, herbs, and complex flavors are a common thread across Middle Eastern dishes. Whether you’re in the mood for creamy hummus shawarma with a generous topping of shaved lamb at a modern fast-casual or a traditional mezze platter followed by sweet, flaky baklava and a glass of mint tea at a longstanding local staple, here are some of the best restaurants for Middle Eastern food San Diego County has to offer.Read More
Where to Eat Middle Eastern Food in San Diego
From shawarma to shakshouka
1. Aladdin Cafe
Aladdin’s award-winning menu has many delicious offerings, from shared mezze, and charcoal meat dishes, to wood-fired pizzas. The casual spot also serves authentic Turkish coffee and mint tea (perfect with a slice of knafeh) and is an excellent option for lunch (try a shawarma sandwich) or takeout.
2. Simsim Outstanding Shawarma
While Simsim’s vibe is modern the menu is based on classic Arabic cuisine; specifically shawarma, or meats cooked on a vertical rotisserie, shaved and then served in a freshly baked saj wrap or bowl with vegetables. A second location of the fast-casual concept is opening soon in Carmel Valley.
From gas station food stand to modern brick and mortar, Mahmoud Barkawi and Osama Shabaik combined their Egyptian and Syrian backgrounds when creating Tahini’s menu of authentic Middle Eastern street food. The Food Network’s Guy Fieri was said to be a big fan of the shaved chicken shawarma here.
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4. Sufi Mediterranean Cuisine
Sufi’s lively dining room is open for Sunday brunch, lunch buffets, and dinners, often hosting live Iranian music and belly dancing show on Saturday nights. Well-executed Persian classics range from fresh shirazi salad and homemade stews to koobideh (ground filet mignon) kabobs, plus fresh-baked baklava.
5. Ali Baba Restaurant
Whether it’s a late-night run for a chicken kabob sandwich or ‘feast for five’ sit down meal, this El Cajon favorite specializes in delicious halal Iraqi and Mediterranean cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner; the entire menu is also available for take-out.
6. Alforon Mediterranean
Listed #25 on Yelp’s Top 100 US Restaurants, the award-winning Alforon is known and loved for its authentic Lebanese Mediterranean cuisine made from scratch daily using authentic imported Lebanese spices and herbs. The restaurant’s slow-cooked ouzi lamb and soujouk flatbread with spiced ground beef and fresh white cheese also featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show.
7. Mystic Grill
The portions are plentiful at this longstanding favorite on the La Mesa/Lemon Grove border. Open for lunch and dinner; the menu spans a range of Mediterranean dishes from entree meze, kabob and gyro plates to halal pizzas in a straightforward counter-serve setting.
The cuisines of Morocco and Baja collide in all the best ways at this counter-serve and highly photogenic spot (think tasteful Zellige tiles and blue-washed walls) in North Park. The concise fast-casual menu of tacos and bowls feature Moroccan-spiced chicken asado, housemade lamb merguez sausage, plus a North African-style poached egg shakshouka skillet. New additions include a weekend brunch and accompanying cocktails, plus a traditional family-style Moroccan couscous plate served on the first and third Friday of every month, in keeping with North African tradition.
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Perhaps better known for its Russian fare, dishes with a distinct Middle Eastern bent and flavor profiles include the chicken tabaka Cornish hen with pomegranate molasses, succulent charcoal-roasted meat shaslik skewers, and Babushka’s Surprise baked apple dessert stuffed with fruits, walnuts, and honey.
10. Mama's Bakery & Deli
Dig into pillowy homemade pita, fresh tabbouleh, falafel, and baba ganoush on the vegetarian plate at this longtime local favorite counter-serve spot, which also serves up numerous varieties of manaeesh, an olive oil-rich flatbread topped with everything from fried eggplant and chicken to mint and labneh.
11. Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro
With its intimate atmosphere and decor (think low-slung sofas, lanterns, and pillows), Kous Kous does delicious beautifully presented mid-priced Moroccan food including tagines, salads, and kabobs. There are family-style Moroccan feasts and a weekday happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) with $1 tapas and $5 beers, too.
12. Khyber Pass Restaurant
Originally from Kabul, couple Zia and Angela opened the first iteration of their restaurant over thirty years ago. Sitting between India and Iran, Afghan cuisine blends flavors but also has a distinct charm of its own. Try the bolani stuffed flatbreads, aushak leek-filled dumplings, and kabuli pulao pilaf rice and lamb or chicken topped with carrots and raisins.
13. Sahara Taste of the Middle East
Expect a mix of fresh and made to order dishes, like seasoned slow-cooked lamb over rice, bureg egg rolls, beef, rice kuba halub croquettes, and Sahara fries topped with chicken or beef shawarma, plus tahini and garlic sauce at this popular strip mall spot. Prices are around $15, too, making it hot value.
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14. Luna Grill
This homegrown chain serves up authentic Greek kebabs and other Mediterranean eats in a relaxed, counter-service setting. For wraps there are gyros and falafel, while the flat cut chicken kabob (it comes with rice, pita, and salad) is one of the most popular signature plates.
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15. Darband Fifth Avenue Grill
Another great option for Persian food in the Gaslamp features daily specials from a khoresh gheimeh beef stew on Monday to a sabzi polo-mahi fish dish on Saturday. The restaurant itself is on the smaller side with a slight hole in the wall vibe. Tea is complimentary and dishes cost between $8 to $20.
16. Cafe Istanbul
As the name suggests, expect solid Turkish staples at this family-friendly spot. Dishes are flavorsome and well-priced — tuck into vibrant salads, homemade dumplings, charcoal-scarred kebabs, and, of course, buttery baklava. The breakfast plate and Turkish coffee are a winning combination for the morning.
17. Bandar Restaurant
A Gaslamp quarter staple for Persian food since 1996, signature classics range from the soltani kabobs to Bandar’s world-famous chicken. Open for lunch and dinner (there’s a prix fixe menu plus happy hour between 3 and 6 p.m.) portions are generously sized, and the rosewater sorbet is a must for dessert.
18. The Kebab Shop
Looking for a quick lunch or dinner? Look no further than hit San Diego mini-chain The Kebab Shop, whose specialty Turkish döner kebabs – think shaved rotisserie-roasted spiced chicken, lamb, or beef piled into sandwiches or loaded on top of crispy French fries – keep lines out the door most days.