The food scene of our stretch of Pacific Coast Highway unfolds like the colors on a roulette wheel: delis and gabacho-fied taco stands. Bars and burger joints. The high-end nouveau-riche refuges of South County and down-home diners such as Harbor House Café. Crab shacks and tourist traps. And then there’s Gyro Kabob in Sunset Beach.
Greek food isn’t something I associate with the beach, at least not the Americanized take familiar to county eaters. But it works wonderfully in this closet, squeezed between a wall and a tattoo shop. The gyro of its name is the better choice, and what a choice: buttery petals of meat piled onto a plate or into a pita, its edges slightly crisped by the fire that cooked it in an upright twirler for hours. Its flavors get accentuated with the best tzaziki sauce I’ve yet to taste—almost caramel in its sugary nature but with a yogurt twist. The gyro meat goes great in a burger—it’s not on the menu, but the kind owner will gladly pile it on the patty and sing its praises. I enjoy it best in a burrito, the same pita sandwich but now cooked in an honest-to-goodness flour tortilla (no imitator “wrap” here), burnt just so, as in the finest taquerías. Pour on the Tapatío and tzaziki, and you’ll remember that the Greeks were as maligned as Mexicans for their swarthy, hairy nature about a century ago.
There is more than just meat here. Feta fries dusted in herbs and fresh from a dunk in oil melt the cheese that tops it, fusing dairy and tater. Now that the Crystal Cove Shake Shack is a watered-down version of its glorious past, this is the county’s best place for a true date shake—ice, vanilla ice cream and locally harvested dates puréed into an earthy stunner. This drink is so thick your straw will collapse on itself as you try to suck it up, and it’ll suffocate you when that sweet sludge finally reaches your mouth and spreads across every centimeter of your palate. You can even catch glimpses of the owner’s aspiration for something grander—a small deli case has fresh olives and slabs of feta for sale.
Since Gyro Kabob is on PCH, the parking is always brutal—and, even if you find some, the drivers speeding toward Surf City won’t stop if you try to reverse. My advice: Take a friend, drop them off, drive for a bit trying to look for that cheater Jesse James’ house and return to pick up your pal.
Gyro Kabob, 16873 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-7771; www.gyrokabob.com.
This column appeared in print as “Beach Blanket Gyro.”