Dining Out

At Jaffa Café, gyros and shawarmas are calling

Jaffa Café’s menu is filled with Middle Eastern favorites, from roasted meats to vegetarian fare

Special to The TribuneJuly 18, 2013 

First there was one Jaffa Café, and now there are three, including a location in The Village of Arroyo Grande.

Ali and Wendy Saleh opened the second cafe at the east end of Branch Street in March 2012. The bright, welcoming eatery offers all the Middle Eastern dishes from the original Jaffa Café that Ali’s brother, Adnen Saleh, launched in San Luis Obispo in 2000.

“He really just handed the concept to us,” said Ali Saleh. “It’s the same exact everything, and everybody trained in San Luis before coming here. We use the same recipes and almost everything is made from scratch — the sauces, the soups, the salads.”

Indeed, even the baklava is house-made right down to the syrup (and you’re welcome to a free piece of the delectable treat on your first visit — try it with a small cup of the strong, sweet Turkish coffee).

Among the most popular items on the Jaffa menu is the shawarma — marinated and roasted meat served either in a pita bread wrap with lettuce and tomatoes or on an entrée plate with hummus, pita and your choice of rice or lettuce.

To make the shawarmas, pieces of the marinated meats (chicken, beef, or lamb) are stacked and pressed together on a spit that slowly rotates vertically in front of a rotisserie, and then the roasted meat is deftly shaved off in thin pieces to order.

You’ll see the big, slowly turning spits behind the counter at Jaffa, and fans of the Mexican pork dish known as “al pastor” will recognize the identical cooking technique.

Anyone looking for vegetarian fare shouldn’t be put off by those big meat-laden spits, however. Easily half of the Jaffa menu is vegetarian, including several salads and the very popular housemade red lentil soup.

There are also several classic Middle Eastern vegetarian appetizers such as stuffed grape leaves, falafel (deep fried garbanzo bean balls), a roasted eggplant dip called baba ghanoush, and a zesty taboulleh made with bulgur wheat, chopped parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, and onions.

If you’re new to this cuisine, some already familiar dishes you might try include the chicken kabobs, an open-faced three cheese “pita pizza,” or even the kiftas. The latter are ground beef patties somewhat akin to sliders, but flavored with onion, parsley and Middle Eastern seasonings.

Whatever you order, be sure to take your plate on a visit to the Jaffa condiment bar. Here you’ll find dill pickle spears, pepperoncinis, and four house-made sauces: shatta (a spicy red chili sauce), a milder red salsa made from roasted japones chiles, green tomatillo salsa, and a refreshing yoghurt, dill and cucumber sauce known as tzatziki.

By all accounts, Jaffa’s Middle Eastern menu has been well received in the community, and Saleh noted that “we feel very blessed to have this location. We love the small community feel and really think it’s been a win-win for all of us. There’s a lot here — wine tasting, ice cream, farmers markets, music on the weekends. We’ve really just fallen in love with the Village.”

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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