Last week I wrote about how Seattle’s culinary scene is expanding at the same pace as the city itself, and what that means for restaurants and diners. One thing I touched on was how, increasingly, national chains are getting in on the Seattle action. One of them, Halal Guys, is a New York import that’s set up a trendy spot in Pioneer Square—to a lot of buzz and mixed reviews. Though I haven’t made it there yet, I did get up to Greenwood to try another halal joint, Gyro Time (10400 Greenwood Ave. N., 527-8000). This one is local, and will never get the kind of attention that the shiny new spot has. That’s too bad, because what I discovered was not only delicious, but served by the owner with incredible care.
It’s not much to look at, just off Aurora Avenue in a little shopping strip. You order at the counter from a menu board, and there are a few tables and enlarged photos of various attractions from the Middle East. But no matter—the food is on point and the owner ready to enthusiastically take your order, be it a plate, a sandwich, a salad, or an appetizer.
From the plates, I went with the falafel Mediterranean, which comes with six large balls of falafel, seasoned well, with a perfect density, and not at all greasy. I especially loved how the tahini sauce was used respectfully, lightly coating—not smothering—the falafel. The salad greens it was served on were fresh, the pita bread warm, soft, and slightly browned. A side of hummus was a little on the oily side for me, but the baba ghanouj was a smoky, tangy delight, the roasted eggplant mixed with tahini garlic lemon juices and studded with several olives and a smattering of cilantro. In fact, it was so good that I ordered a side of it to take home.
The combo platter with beef, lamb, and chicken was also a hit, chunks of tender meat strewn throughout yellow rice that was actually flavored well (often the rice is an afterthought at these places). The salad, too, was not just a soggy side mess, but full of crisp ribbons of bell pepper, orbs of beets, crunchy radishes, pepperoncini, refreshing cucumber slices, and tomato halves that weren’t typically anemic. Again, it came with just enough tzatziki sauce to complement it, not clobber it.
I couldn’t leave without trying the traditional shawarma wrap. I had some trouble deciding which meat to get, so the owner suggested the chicken. I’m glad he did. Juicy pieces are wrapped into a thinner bread than pita, along with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, and just the right amount of tzatziki sauce. This is not a sandwich that oozes sauce, but stays adroitly together for each delicious bite.
Besides the food, here’s what else made the experience memorable: After we ordered, the owner asked if we wanted anything to drink. We decided not to bother, but then he beckoned us to take two free bottles of water from the case. He also noticed that we’d been batting around the idea of trying the dolmas. Though we opted not to order them, we were tickled when the plate was sent to our table gratis. We left with them in tow, as well as leftovers and a slice of baklava and a chunk of halvah. While the baklava was too sweet for my taste (it usually is), the halvah was a piece of pure pleasure, and I snacked on it all week.
There are so many little spots like this around the city, and while not all of them are going to be winners, they’re worth checking out. You might not get a trendy ambience or bragging rights, but helping a good, well-intentioned local business thrive is sometimes worth the trade-off.