Mr. Sagmani
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Sagmani's Restaurant

478 W. Douglas Avenue, El Cajon

"Eat onion in the morning. Give it to friends at noon. Give it to your enemies at night."

That's the ancient wisdom on the power of onions from my friend Mr. Sagmani. He's Chaldean, a Christian from Baghdad. Has his kabob place in El Cajon. He reminds me of it as I chomp into his kabob plate here by the tire shop just off West Main. I kinda ran in here from the rain.

Mr. Sagmani's is right by the tire shop near where the 815 bus stops. I have loved his place ever since I discovered he sold shish kabobs for 99 cents.

True! Such a deal, and gut-fillers when you most need them, like to get the energy to hoof it to the trolley, a mile up West Main.

So today I head in just as smoke starts billowing from the kitchen.

Skewers on the grill

"Getting ready for my afternoon regulars," Mr. Sagmani says. I see he's got about a dozen 2-foot-long sword skewers on the grill, loaded with chicken, lamb, beef.

So I start off ordering two 99-cent kabobs. Then I remember that deal is only for to-go orders. And right now i see the rain really start to come down outside. So what da heck. Miss a trolley. Catch a lunch.

Sagmani's kabob plate

Of course now I'm paying $7, not $2. But I'm also getting a pile of rice, salad, pickled cabbage, the two large kabobs, and a fresh-baked disk of pita bread. How fresh? Mr. Sagmani slapped it in his tandoor oven a minute ago. Bingo! World's freshest bread. Also most ancient.

Actually it's the freshness of everything that hits you. Even the walls, all fresh-painted in three shades of blue.

As you're supposed to, I start off with those paprika-dusted onions. Red. Sliced. Raw. And I swear, they freshen up your system and tweak your appetite like nothing else.

And tea. The tea is always free. Endless hot little glasses of chai. Cool.

While I'm eating I notice this guy eating something pretty interesting-looking at the next table. Turns out he's Saad, Mr. Sagmani's nephew. He's munching on a thin, disk-shaped sandwich with ground meat inside.

Kubba

"It's kubba," he says. "A crushed wheat pie stuffed with meat and fried. Here..."

He cuts a piece off for me. Huh. Interesting. Is that saffron I'm tasting in the bread part?

Saad says you can get a couple of slices with rice and salad for $7, or the whole pizza-like disk for $12. "But it feeds a lot people," he says.

By the time I get out, gut's full, head's crammed with conversation, and the rain has eased. Really going to need that mile-long walk to the trolley.

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