A down-on-their-luck couple went to each business in a Tustin shopping plaza asking for a free meal. None complied. They entered Gyro N Kabob, which masks its humble setting with roses at each table and a reclining couch out of Scheherazade’s imagination near the entrance. “Can we have some food, sir?” they asked the seemingly gruff owner. He went into the kitchen and barked orders to cook something fast.
The couple claimed they were from St. Louis and that the man had recently undergone heart surgery. “Can we get fries?” the man asked. “Or a hamburger?” No, the owner calmly replied. They didn’t serve American food—this was an Afghan restaurant. It didn’t seem to please the man.
“What’s lamb?” he kept asking, even though the Gyro N Kabob owner was going to give them a beef patty called chapli kebab.
“Lamb, lamb,” the owner repeated, before bleating like a sheep.
The order finally arrived. “Can we have forks and napkins?” the woman asked. Already inside the bag, the owner replied. The couple thanked the man and walked away; the owner took out some type of subcontinental drum and tapped away to an accompanying sitar soundtrack.
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Times are tough, and I was the only other customer in the hour or so I spent at Gyro N Kabob when this occurred. But such generosity! Don’t go asking for freebies—visit for massive portions, delicious treats and entrées rare to these parts. Begin with an appetizer—maybe bolani, reminiscent of stuffed-potato naan but better, topped with scallions and accompanied by a fiery chutney available in a squeeze bottle. Or mantoo, Afghanistan’s dumpling, served six to an order and mixed with yogurt and mint, among the finer versions of the dumpling family.
The rest of the menu is straightforward—chicken, beef (my favorite, a beef patty layered with green onions and peppers so spicy you get visions of Mexico) or lamb, prepared as a wrap or kebabs, each extraordinarily juicy. But the rice is among the nuttiest grains you’ll taste in the county, and the slightly sweet house bread is somewhere between barbari and naan on the thickness scale. Gyro N Kabob is also the only place I know that makes fresh doogh, a refreshing yogurt-based drink tarter than the better-known Indian lassi. They go beyond the usual store-bought version by infusing the drink with dried mint leaves and cucumber bits to create the equivalent of downing a cup of spiced sour cream. Doogh might not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Gyro N Kabob, 14145 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-0713; www.gyronkabob.com.