By Frank Sabatini Jr.
A visit to Tak Grill potentially sends you on a culinary odyssey through several countries beginning with Iran, where Hossein Ebrahimi ran a similar eatery before emigrating to the U.S. several years ago.
His native recipes for minty shirazi salad and succulent meat kebabs are supplemented by dishes common to Turkey, Lebanon and Greece — chicken shawarma, stuffed grape leaves, lamb-beef gyros and falafel.
Though not so “unique” to cultured diners (as the Persian word “tak” denotes), the young and personable Ebrahimi masters the fare with clean ingredients and proper seasonings.
For a fast-casual operation that uses disposable plateware, the food is also presented with more visual panache than you’d expect.
Vivid yellow walls are the backdrop to tantalizing photos Ebrahimi took of certain dishes.
If those don’t send your appetite into frenzy, the vertical spits of gyros and chicken shawarma basking in their drippings will do the trick as they stare at you from behind the order counter.
House-made hummus served with pita bread was smooth, thick and spiked judiciously with the three vital flavor boosters: tahini, lemon juice and olive oil.
A fine balance of ingredients emerged in the shirazi salad as well, with evenly diced cucumbers and tomatoes playing host to fresh mint, lemon and olive oil.
The famed Lebanese tabouli salad was expectedly rich in chopped parsley. Its grassy bitterness in such concentrated amounts is an acquired taste, though quelled to a degree by bulgur, tomatoes and oil-lemon dressing.
We later applied some of it to a ground beef kebab and it paired quite naturally to the onion-infused meat.
The menu also offers a standard Greek salad and a spring-mix medley with apples, walnuts, cranberries and Gorgonzola in pomegranate dressing. That salad is only $8.95; not bad considering it’s the highest priced starter on the menu.
Tak Grill serves a lean, mean chicken shawarma sandwich (or plate).
The stacked poultry — spiced with cumin, coriander and paprika — is shaved from its rotisserie in generous portions and piled into a large, puffy pita pocket with mixed salad and yogurt sauce. I’m a sucker for these sandwiches and have learned that feta makes them better — an easy upgrade for 75 cents here.
In addition to the aforementioned ground beef kebab, others include beef filet as well as chicken, in which the meat undergoes an overnight marinade in 12 spices. There’s also an equally tempting marinated rack of lamb. The proteins are cooked on a gas grill with pans of water underneath it, a crafty cooking method that instills extra moisture to the food.
A deep fryer is used for the falafel, those crispy orbs of mashed chick peas that Ebrahimi laces with cilantro and green onions. It’s one of the few Mediterranean dishes my dining companion eschews either because they’re too plain or dry. But he ate these with gusto.
Plates come with fluffy basmati rice, garden salad, pita bread, a grilled tomato and cool, creamy cucumber-yogurt sauce, which is compatible with every meal component you slather it onto.
Visiting late morning on a weekday, Tak Grill was already doing a brisk business with takeout and dine-in orders. At just over a year old, Ebrahimi seems to have hooked area residents and day workers on a cuisine that is wholesome, affordable and memorably flavorful.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.