July 26 2013 07:26 PM

Fairouz Restaurant is part art, part appetite

7-31 spoon
The gyros plate at Fairouz
Photo by Mina Riazi

In Istanbul, street vendors doling out slow-roasted döner kebab are nearly everywhere. My father lunched on the crispy-edged meat pieces almost every day during my family's weeklong stay in the city. I was often impressed by how little the cylindrical hunks of lamb and chicken actually resembled meat. A shapely vase? Yes. The bust of a statue? Perhaps. Filleted lamb? No, not at all. 

The aroma, though, always crushed my suspicions. Salty, greasy and smoky, the smell slunk through the streets, yanking the attention of tourists softened and slowed down by 90-degree heat. I later learned that Greek gyros are basically the same thing as the Turkish döner kebab. Gyro means "to turn," and döner comes from the Turkish verb donmek, which also means "to turn." In both cases, the meat is roasted on a vertical spit, then wrapped in pita bread and slapped together with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. 

At Fairouz Restaurant & Gallery (3166 Midway Drive), you can order your gyros on top of salad or with pita bread. Sure, it isn't the same as digging into a hot, hulking wrap on a noisy street corner, but it still makes a solid meal. Rip the warm pita rounds in half, and then stuff them with all the right fixings: gyros meat, raw onion and chunks of tomato. I recommend finishing off your wrap with blobs of tzatziki, a thick yogurt flecked with dill and cucumber. You'll find the flavorful lamb pieces blackened and crunchy on the edges, but tender and chewy in the middle. 

At the Midway eatery, nearly every inch of every wall is covered by paintings. The artist, Ibrahim Al Nashasibi, is also the owner of the Mediterranean joint, which has been around since 1986. I quickly got the impression that everyone there was a regular. Throughout the evening, Ibrahim's playful rapport with many of the patrons made it even clearer that I was the only first-timer there. 

One such Fairouz regular was an elderly woman sitting at a nearby table. When she learned that I was a sheepish first-timer, she stopped mid-conversation, turned in her seat to face me, and made a weighty confession: she was addicted to the restaurant's stuffed grape leaves. Lucky for me, I had ordered the vegetarian platter minutes before, and it comes with falafel, hummus, tabouleh and the stuffed grape leaves. 

Plump with rice, chopped tomatoes, onions and parsley, the grape-leaf-wrapped morsels were tasty, and so was the falafel, which packed in a pleasant crunch. If you'd like to ditch the menu, though, and explore a wider array of choices, Fairouz offers a lunch and dinner buffet. I'm usually not a buffet enthusiast—the glut of options only overwhelms me. But if you're a buffet buff, then I'd say give Fairouz's a whirl. More than 40 different dishes—including lamb meatballs, eggplant mousaka, okra and rice pudding—await your appetite, so make sure to bring it along.

Fairouz sits right across from a Taco Bell in a nondescript strip mall, but there's nothing dull about the family-run eatery. If you don't believe me, just ask one of the restaurant's many long-time regulars. 

Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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