A lamb and beef kebab plate, with salad and hummus with chickpeas
From a food lover’s perspective at least, good things have been happening in Carmel Mountain Ranch. Frankly, I ignored the place for years, because this is shopping center country, the sort of place populated by big box stores and other national retailers. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for the likes of Costco, Best Buy, Staples, and Home Depot.
11640 Carmel Mountain Road suite 124, San Diego
Likewise, its corresponding dining options have long fallen to national chains: Panera Bread, Chik-Fil-A, Olive Garden, and California Pizza Kitchen do business here. No judgment on area residents who happily keep such places afloat, but for us food writer ilk, such places are propina non grata. Not worth patronizing when there are local eateries in the vicinity.
Fortunately, local spots have been starting to creep in. Mostra Coffee, recently named 2020 Micro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine, opened its coffee shop here in 2018. There’s family-owned Sushi Kyodai, the hot dog shack Duff’s Doggz, and as of a few weeks ago, a Simsim Outstanding Shawarma.
The lunch crowd winding down at Simsim Carmel Mountain
It may be telling that I found a bunch of locals lining up to eat at this new chain on the block. Simsim isn’t a big national brand that serves virtually identical, trucked-in food at locations in Dubuque, Houston, or suburban New Jersey. Simsim’s a San Diego startup, and this is only its second restaurant. More to the point, the Middle Eastern fast casual spot is dedicated to cooking food from scratch.
I spotted chef and partner Ibrahim Alsharief working the open kitchen, just as I did when I visited the original Kearny Mesa location last August. The layout of this property is nearly identical: a cafeteria-style counter serving a stylish yet casual dining room. The biggest difference here is the long dining patio.
The rare scratch cooking establishment in a big shopping center
There are a few differences to the menu here as well. The basics are the same: wraps, bowls, and salads are made with an 18-spice rotisserie chicken, beef and lamb gyro, or falafel. But the kitchen must be a bit bigger here, because there’s a Carmel Mountain-specific section of the menu offering plates with kabobs and the like.
Any one of them would have been terrific with the house tahini (my preferred sauce of the six available). I decide to give the beef and lamb kebab meat a try ($14). It’s really a long, finely ground patty of grilled meat, a bit like a spicy hamburger patty. With a salad and creamy hummus with chickpea topping, it makes a tasty, affordable meal, but I have to admit, I should have spent $16 for the organic, tenderloin steak tikka!
I’ll surely be back for it next time I’m hungry in Carmel Mountain; two months in, it’s already the best sit-down restaurant in a nearly two-mile radius.