When Sammy and Joni Arsheed opened a small Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant about ten years ago, it was merely a way to put themselves through college. Now Mr. Gyros, the proud recipient of Seattle Magazine’s Best Gyro and Best Take-out Awards, has expanded to two locations and boasts snaking lines of eager customers during busy hours.
The wait rarely turns business away, however. A combination of friendly and efficient service and one of the best reputations in town have a way of bringing the regulars back and the newcomers flocking. Sometimes, Joni Arsheed says, they see locals two or three times a week.
If the reputation gets you in the door, the cloying aromas and sizzling scents will keep you there. The nearest location in Ballard (5522 20th Avenue NW, between Market and 56th streets) offers both dine-in and a take-out window for call-ahead orders. Weekday hours run from 11:30am – 8:30pm, with a daily closure from 4pm – 5pm to allow employees dinner and time with their families. Friday nights the take-out window stays open until 2:30am.
The menu offers the requisite namesake – a traditional gyro with your choice of lamb, beef, or chicken, topped with a fresh Greek salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions, and homemade-daily tzatziki sauce, all rolled in doughy pita ($5.49). Mr. Gyros’ meats are marinated in-house a day in advance, roasted rotisserie-style with layers of tomato and onion, and hand-sliced to order.
For the vegetarian visitor, options include falafel – deep-fried balls of ground chickpea and fava beans, with fresh Greek salad and homemade sauces, all coddled in a warm pita ($5.49) – and vegetarian gyros ($4.99).
While the marriage of Middle Eastern dishes, such as falafel and shawarma, with Greek gyros and vegetables might seem incongruous, the Arsheed family heritage spans the Mediterranean as well. Sammy and Joni’s mother is of Greek descent, but was born and raised in Nazareth, Israel, where she met the boys’ Egyptian-born father. The couple moved to America, first to New York and then across-country to Seattle, where the boys were born.
This multiplicity is evident even in the side dishes, perfect for a light meal. Served with pita, choices range from Middle Eastern hummus and baba ghanoush – an eggplant and tahini puree similar to hummus, to traditional Greek tzatziki – the cool and palate-soothing concoction of cucumber, yogurt, and sour cream ($4.29).
Locals rave about Mr. Gyros fries, lightly doused in olive oil and sprinkled with feta ($1.89), and a well-kept secret, hot Arabic mint tea ($2.49, or free for dine-in).
Of course, this is probably not the ideal destination for a first date, as even seemingly-tame offerings like kabobs (chicken or lamb, $7.29) and the chicken Caesar gyro ($5.49) pack a pungent punch of flavor. It is the destination for a filling meal, however. Portions are generous, and any regular meal item can also be enlarged to plate-size, with heaping offerings of sizzling meat, white rice, hummus or baba, Greek salad, and two pita rounds ($8.19-$10.49).
Above the head-clearing flavors and ethnically-accurate dishes, the jangling Persain dance music, and the soccer game playing in the background is a commitment to bubbly and personal service that endears Mr. Gyros to visitors and first-timers alike. Sammy, Joni, and their employees faithfully remember the details of their regulars’ lives – asking about the interview, the kid’s soccer game, the new boyfriend – and easily strike up conversation with newcomers.
In warmth, Mr. Gyros’ hospitality and food have transcended borders to find a place in the heart of Seattle here and now. Is it any wonder they’re love at first bite?
Published 31 October 2012 in The Falcon as “Mr. Gyros delivers taste of Mediterranean”