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Shawarma Guys goes from Yelp #1 to Hot & New in La Mesa

The famed South Park food truck grows into the first of two planned storefronts

Shawarma Guys puts slices of its Yelp-famous wagyu shawarma into egg rolls
Shawarma Guys puts slices of its Yelp-famous wagyu shawarma into egg rolls
Video:

Shawarma Guys goes from Yelp #1 to Hot & New in La Mesa


On the television screen behind the counter, Guy Fieri bites into a wagyu beef egg roll. Seated at my table, I respond by doing the same. Which feels a little like a snake eating its own tail moment. Because, just over my shoulder, there’s a San Diego Reader logo printed on the wall, between logos of CBS News and The New York Times.

PLACE

Shawarma Guys La Mesa

5525 Jackson Dr., Suite B, La Mesa

This won’t be the first time I’ve written about Shawarma Guys. In a couple of weeks, it will have been five years since I posted a Feast story about the tender, rotisserie wagyu beef being offered by a new food truck set up outside a Grape Street liquor store in South Park. Maybe I convinced a few people to try it.

But it was nearly a year after that when things really took off. In January 2020, Yelp issued its annual top 100 restaurants list, and that little food truck sat right at the top. Yelp had named Shawarma Guys the “#1 restaurant in the country,” and pretty much overnight, people started lining up at the food truck like it was the DMV.

Though among the first, The Reader is but one of many outlets that has covered Shawarma Guys


This wasn’t just a big deal for Shawarma Guys. San Diego’s rarely been part of a #1 anything, and our second city syndrome is particularly pronounced when it comes to food. So, even if the proclamation had more to do with Yelp algorithms than Cordon Bleu-level excellence, we took pride both in the accomplishment, and the national news coverage that came with it. It was only a matter of time before Food Network cameras showed up to capture Fieri mixing it up in the mobile kitchen with owner and chef Bryan Zeto.

I bring it up not to blurt “First!” like an online commenter in the early 2000s, but to point out: now that Shawarma Guys has finally opened up a brick and mortar location, it makes sense for its wild ride and accolades to be documented on the wall and TV screen.

From a food truck in South Park, to a storefront in La Mesa
Sponsored
Sponsored


While the truck continues to do business from its perch on Grape Street, this complete-with-dining-room spot recently opened its doors in La Mesa, near the busy intersection of Jackson Drive and Fletcher Parkway. According to its web site, a second storefront will also soon open in Mira Mesa (at 9690 Reagan Road).

Aside from the branding and media, the shop embraces clean, simple style, with pendant lights illuminating faux stone counters and tiles. Back in 2019, I recall Mr. Zeto greeting customers outside the food truck, to talk up their dining preferences, and offer samples of assorted food items. And though I did spot him popping in and out to oversee things, much of the same, personal hospitality has been taken over by an entire team — far more people than could ever fit inside the truck.

A vegan shawarma wrap


I decided to try menu items that, though they’re available from the food truck now, weren’t offered during my earlier visits. While $14-19 plates or $13-15 wraps of the wagyu shawarma, chicken shawarma, and falafel remain the menu’s top options, I mainly wanted to try the wagyu egg rolls that elicited a Fieri “Wow,” and to sample the “vegan shawarma,” similarly seasoned but made of shredded soy meat substitute rather than carved off a rotisserie.

Combining wagyu beef with a deep fryer, the egg rolls ($10.50) are a no-brainer. I tried the vegan shawarma wrapped in a thin, house pita ($14), and found it more bready than meaty, but it’s fair to assume most vegans won’t be eating it beside the wagyu like I did.

Like a California burrito, but with chicken shawarma, saffron rice, and pickled okra


The only place I see the local success story falter is the California Shawarma wrap ($15). Modeled after what is arguably San Diego’s biggest culinary claim to fame, the California burrito, it fuses the fries inside a flour tortilla concept with chicken shawarma, saffron rice, shredded lettuce, and pickled okra. It neither improves upon the burrito nor the wrap, so I can’t recommend it.

Fortunately, the Shawarma Guys “try a sample” M.O. did save the day. The new shop features a small gelato machine, which churned up coconut and mango flavors. After sampling the mango, I ordered a $3 cup, and for the next few weeks at least, mango has become my new favorite ice cream flavor. Best in the nation gelato? No, but it sure will do for La Mesa.

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Shawarma Guys puts slices of its Yelp-famous wagyu shawarma into egg rolls
Shawarma Guys puts slices of its Yelp-famous wagyu shawarma into egg rolls
Video:

Shawarma Guys goes from Yelp #1 to Hot & New in La Mesa


On the television screen behind the counter, Guy Fieri bites into a wagyu beef egg roll. Seated at my table, I respond by doing the same. Which feels a little like a snake eating its own tail moment. Because, just over my shoulder, there’s a San Diego Reader logo printed on the wall, between logos of CBS News and The New York Times.

PLACE

Shawarma Guys La Mesa

5525 Jackson Dr., Suite B, La Mesa

This won’t be the first time I’ve written about Shawarma Guys. In a couple of weeks, it will have been five years since I posted a Feast story about the tender, rotisserie wagyu beef being offered by a new food truck set up outside a Grape Street liquor store in South Park. Maybe I convinced a few people to try it.

But it was nearly a year after that when things really took off. In January 2020, Yelp issued its annual top 100 restaurants list, and that little food truck sat right at the top. Yelp had named Shawarma Guys the “#1 restaurant in the country,” and pretty much overnight, people started lining up at the food truck like it was the DMV.

Though among the first, The Reader is but one of many outlets that has covered Shawarma Guys


This wasn’t just a big deal for Shawarma Guys. San Diego’s rarely been part of a #1 anything, and our second city syndrome is particularly pronounced when it comes to food. So, even if the proclamation had more to do with Yelp algorithms than Cordon Bleu-level excellence, we took pride both in the accomplishment, and the national news coverage that came with it. It was only a matter of time before Food Network cameras showed up to capture Fieri mixing it up in the mobile kitchen with owner and chef Bryan Zeto.

I bring it up not to blurt “First!” like an online commenter in the early 2000s, but to point out: now that Shawarma Guys has finally opened up a brick and mortar location, it makes sense for its wild ride and accolades to be documented on the wall and TV screen.

From a food truck in South Park, to a storefront in La Mesa
Sponsored
Sponsored


While the truck continues to do business from its perch on Grape Street, this complete-with-dining-room spot recently opened its doors in La Mesa, near the busy intersection of Jackson Drive and Fletcher Parkway. According to its web site, a second storefront will also soon open in Mira Mesa (at 9690 Reagan Road).

Aside from the branding and media, the shop embraces clean, simple style, with pendant lights illuminating faux stone counters and tiles. Back in 2019, I recall Mr. Zeto greeting customers outside the food truck, to talk up their dining preferences, and offer samples of assorted food items. And though I did spot him popping in and out to oversee things, much of the same, personal hospitality has been taken over by an entire team — far more people than could ever fit inside the truck.

A vegan shawarma wrap


I decided to try menu items that, though they’re available from the food truck now, weren’t offered during my earlier visits. While $14-19 plates or $13-15 wraps of the wagyu shawarma, chicken shawarma, and falafel remain the menu’s top options, I mainly wanted to try the wagyu egg rolls that elicited a Fieri “Wow,” and to sample the “vegan shawarma,” similarly seasoned but made of shredded soy meat substitute rather than carved off a rotisserie.

Combining wagyu beef with a deep fryer, the egg rolls ($10.50) are a no-brainer. I tried the vegan shawarma wrapped in a thin, house pita ($14), and found it more bready than meaty, but it’s fair to assume most vegans won’t be eating it beside the wagyu like I did.

Like a California burrito, but with chicken shawarma, saffron rice, and pickled okra


The only place I see the local success story falter is the California Shawarma wrap ($15). Modeled after what is arguably San Diego’s biggest culinary claim to fame, the California burrito, it fuses the fries inside a flour tortilla concept with chicken shawarma, saffron rice, shredded lettuce, and pickled okra. It neither improves upon the burrito nor the wrap, so I can’t recommend it.

Fortunately, the Shawarma Guys “try a sample” M.O. did save the day. The new shop features a small gelato machine, which churned up coconut and mango flavors. After sampling the mango, I ordered a $3 cup, and for the next few weeks at least, mango has become my new favorite ice cream flavor. Best in the nation gelato? No, but it sure will do for La Mesa.

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