The Kebab Shop tops the block

Vivian Kuang and Sanjana Ranganathan

The Kebab Shop, an award-winning Mediterranean fast-casual dining chain, recently opened a new location in San Ramon that offers a casual, moderately priced dining atmosphere best for a hangout with friends or a laid-back family outing.

The Kebab Shop opened mid-December 2018 in the Crow Canyon Plaza and offers Mediterranean- style kebabs, falafel, salads and sandwiches with a counter-service model, where customers order at the counter and can eat at open seating in the restaurant or order to go. Originally from San Diego, the chain has expanded to Orange County and the Bay Area; the San Ramon location is the fifth in the Bay Area. The Kebab Shop also accommodates a variety of diets, featuring vegetarian, halal and gluten-free menu items.

When first entering, the urban vibe is evident and purposeful. Large, circular white bulbs dangle from the ceiling and the walls are gray with red accents. A short wall divides the eating area from the area where guests stand in line to order. Emblematic of open concept dining, the food preparation area is separated from the dining area only by a glass pane, allowing guests to see inside. Most tables seat four to six people; if you come with a smaller group, be prepared to share a table with another group.

We visited The Kebab Shop on a Tuesday around 1:00 p.m. and the shop was slightly crowded, but we were still easily able to find seating. The only concern regarding the crowd was parking, as The Kebab Shop is situated in a large complex with numerous popular stores and restaurants. The atmosphere is slightly loud, but the tables and floor were both very clean, especially for a fast food-style restaurant.

We ordered a chicken flatbread wrap, falafel rice box and the crave fries, each dish priced at around $10 and the fries being an additional $4. The service was relatively quick; from coming in, our order was taken after about five minutes and the food was ready seven minutes later. Each customer was given a pager that indicated when he or she should go to the pickup window. Food was delivered on a tray in takeaway style containers, closer to fast food style dining than a formal setting.

In general, the food was fulfilling and well-made. The portions were large, so much so that we both ultimately packed part of our meal to go. The highlight of the meal was the variety of fresh sauces, including garlic yogurt, dill yogurt, spicy cilantro and spicy chili sauce. The Kebab Shop prides itself on making these sauces fresh, and they added another dimension to the flavor of their dishes.

The chicken flatbread wrap was another highlight; the chicken was tenderly cooked and the vegetables, especially the pickled onion, prevented the meal from becoming too heavy. The falafel rice bowl contained vegetables, a choice of protein (we chose falafel, the vegetarian option) and saffron rice. The vegetables, while fresh, were bland if additional sauces were not added. However, the saffron rice and falafels were well seasoned.

One area in which The Kebab Shop fell short was the crave fries, which were dressed with yogurt sauce, feta cheese and pickled onions. The fries were overly salted, a problem which was compounded by the excessive amounts of feta. While the pickled onions worked well in the flatbread wrap, here they seemed out of place, clashing with the savoriness of the rest of the dish.

Overall, our trip to The Kebab Shop was an enjoyable experience. Excluding the fries, the meal was well prepared and fresh, and the sauces accentuated the classic Mediterranean flavors. Although the dining setting is not conducive for a formal or business meal, the moderately priced food, quick service and fairly high quality make The Kebab Shop ideal for a relaxed meal with friends or family.