Open Falafel Sandwich (credit: JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
No kidding, this lineup is not what Herb Caen had in mind when he wrote “Baghdad by the Bay” in 1949. But here we are with a brilliant array of choices for best Middle Eastern food in San Francisco. We know there are others deserving praise, but here are our favorites.
SoMa StrEAT Food Park
428 11th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Some of the juiciest meat you can find in a lamb gyro or a chicken gyro salad comes from Kabob Trolley, but first you must find them, since they move around a lot. Look for the truck modeled after a San Francisco cable car at the corner of King St. and 4th St. near the Caltrain Station, or find them on Wednesday until 9 p.m. and Thursday for lunch at the SoMa StrEAT Food Park. Gluten free and low carb options gain extra kudos for KT Trolley.
1035 Geary St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Have you ever enjoyed Afghani food? Don’t let the line at this small place on the edge of the Tenderloin prevent you from trying it. Meet Bolani is a spicy leek and potato-filled pastry baked on a flat pan served with yogurt, cilantro chutney and triple kabob served as an appetizer. One of the house specialties is Teka Kabob, a charbroiled beef shish kabob marinated with special seasoning served with salad, Afghan bread and basmati rice. Vegetarians go for Bodinjon Borani, a roasted eggplant topped with garlic yogurt and dry mint served with white rice.
2424 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Moderation is called for when presented with the tempting Naan-e-Afghani, an Afghani bread, served on white linen in a basket. Save room for the main dishes such as Qabelee Pallow, a generous portion of tender lamb shank atop rice mixed with raisins and carrots. This dinner-only place in Russian Hill is affordably priced, with an ambiance (white tablecloths) suitable as a date night choice.
2976 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Social media and websites aren’t their strong point at Old Jerusalem, but their many fans, especially vegetarians, don’t mind. Get anything with hummus for a taste that won’t resemble the store-bought version at all. Pair it with lamb shawarma for a knock-out dish, or go for the house specialties of kunafa and a spicy Turkish chili dip. Still others say you cannot beat their falafel in this small place with big flavors.
2201 Fillmore St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Have you ever walked by the sidewalk tables on Fillmore Street and not seen this cute and cozy place busy? It’s another vegetarian hotspot for the salads and heaps of fresh veggies on their dinner plates. The chicken pomegranate has a reputation that stretches way beyond Fillmore Street. Sticking with the chicken theme, a well-liked variation is cinnamon-spiced chicken with almonds, chickpeas and raisins known as chicken cilicia.