Last week, for some reason, the stars aligned, and I got to eat two of the best gyros/shawarma sandwiches from two very different establishments. The gyros I had are arguably the best in town for very different reasons.
The first shawarma was from Abu Nader, the tiny grocery in the Como neighborhood that AZ always lauds. I have driven past the place dozens of times and had never stopped. Last week, I had to run to the Restaurant Depot for some corn plastic cups and decided to hit the joint for an early (11 a.m.) lunch. I walked in and was warmly greeted by the smell of fresh-baked bread and toasted garlic, very welcoming. I walked up to the counter and was warmly greeted by the cook, cashier, and, I assume, owner. I promptly ordered the gyro or shawarma sandwich and some baba ganoush with a few pieces of pita. Pita is where this story really begins. Their pita is fresh and hot, and I mean just-baked fresh, resting under a cloth and plastic wrap to keep it warm and moist. Is there any other place with just-out-of-the-oven pita in town? The sandwich is the stuffed variety, which is to say a small slit is made in the pita, and the pocket is filled with meat, onions, tomato, and yogurt sauce. This version was sublime with the warm, fresh pita catapulting the sandwich into the comfort food category. I can’t wait to eat it again.
Midnight on Saturday night, after cooking for seventeen hours, Desiree and I were dying for something quick and satisfying with an element of fast food (since we don’t do fast food). I suggested Santana Foods in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood for gyros and a little Sebastian Joe’s ice cream, irresistible for a pregnant chick. I hadn’t had a gyro from Santana for a few years and hoped nothing had changed . . . . they hadn’t changed a thing. Santana’s rendition rolls a very thin pita around the meat, and it is a saucy version with tons of meat, lots of tzatziki, and a little onion and tomato to lessen your guilt a bit. This is the over-the-top version of a gyro, so don’t forget the stack of napkins as you will need them to wipe your sauce-covered smile.
Abu Nader Deli & Grocery, 2095 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-647-5391
Santana Foods, 601 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-8871