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Where to Eat Middle Eastern Food in San Diego

From shawarma to shakshouka

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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.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Aladdin Cafe

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5420 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 573-0000
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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

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7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite 301
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 430-6717
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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. 

3. Tahini

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9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite G
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 779-3272
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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.

4. Sufi Mediterranean Cuisine

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5915 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 278-7770
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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

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421 E Main St
El Cajon, CA 92020
(619) 442-3622
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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

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5965 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 269-9904
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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

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6990 University Ave
La Mesa, CA 91942
(619) 461-1985
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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. 

8. Medina

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2850 El Cajon Blvd #4
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 230-5037
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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.

Chilaquiles in a cast iron pan. Courtesy Photo

9. Pomegranate

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2312 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 298-4007
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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

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4237 Alabama St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 688-0717
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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

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3940 Fourth Ave #110
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 295-5560
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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

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523 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 294-7579
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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

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2990 Jamacha Road
El Cajon, CA 92019
(619) 660-9990
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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.

14. Luna Grill

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2400 Historic Decatur Rd Suite 100
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 224-5862
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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.

15. Darband Fifth Avenue Grill

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1556 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 230-1001
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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

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921 Sixth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 782-6845
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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

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845 Fourth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 238-0101
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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

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630 Ninth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 525-0055
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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.

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1. Aladdin Cafe

5420 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117

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. 

5420 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117

2. Simsim Outstanding Shawarma

7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite 301, San Diego, CA 92111

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. 

7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite 301
San Diego, CA 92111

3. Tahini

9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite G, San Diego, CA 92123

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.

9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite G
San Diego, CA 92123

4. Sufi Mediterranean Cuisine

5915 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

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.

5915 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111

5. Ali Baba Restaurant

421 E Main St, El Cajon, CA 92020

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. 

421 E Main St
El Cajon, CA 92020

6. Alforon Mediterranean

5965 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

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.

5965 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115

7. Mystic Grill

6990 University Ave, La Mesa, CA 91942

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. 

6990 University Ave
La Mesa, CA 91942

8. Medina

2850 El Cajon Blvd #4, San Diego, CA 92104
Chilaquiles in a cast iron pan. Courtesy Photo

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.

2850 El Cajon Blvd #4
San Diego, CA 92104

9. Pomegranate

2312 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104

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. 

2312 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104

10. Mama's Bakery & Deli

4237 Alabama St, San Diego, CA 92104

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.

4237 Alabama St
San Diego, CA 92104

11. Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro

3940 Fourth Ave #110, San Diego, CA 92103

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.

3940 Fourth Ave #110
San Diego, CA 92103

12. Khyber Pass Restaurant

523 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

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.

523 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103

13. Sahara Taste of the Middle East

2990 Jamacha Road, El Cajon, CA 92019

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.

2990 Jamacha Road
El Cajon, CA 92019

14. Luna Grill

2400 Historic Decatur Rd Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92106

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.

2400 Historic Decatur Rd Suite 100
San Diego, CA 92106

15. Darband Fifth Avenue Grill

1556 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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. 

1556 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

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16. Cafe Istanbul

921 Sixth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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. 

921 Sixth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

17. Bandar Restaurant

845 Fourth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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.

845 Fourth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

18. The Kebab Shop

630 Ninth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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.

630 Ninth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

Related Maps