If the idea of downing a doner sandwich in Chinatown seems strange, it's time to put down the chopsticks and head for this sliver of a Turkish restaurant sitting quietly on Sixth Street among countless Asian cafes and noodle shops. Urfa Tomato Kabob may be an unlikely neighbor, but the steady stream of students and suit-clad workers filing in and out indicates that change can indeed be good.
Owner Najme Akay opened the spot six months ago. It is named for Urfa, described on the menu as "one of the most evocative and romantic cities in Turkey"; the "tomato" refers to the sauce chef Mohammed Peivaz uses on the meat.
The menu here is simple: sandwiches, salads, a couple of platters, a handful of sides and desserts. Everything is available to go, though a dozen stools inside and a few outdoor tables beckon those at leisure to sit and relax. Urfa's vibe is casual and low-key, and although the music and bright red and green walls are festive, the interior is a bit cramped. My friend and I longed for a seat outside one recent and particularly glorious afternoon, but halfway through our order of perfectly fried falafel ($4.25) and lemony grape leaves ($4.75), we didn't even miss the sunshine.
Those sides are good, but the main attraction at Urfa is the house-made doner kabob. For the unfamiliar, doner refers to seasoned meat that has been roasted on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. The meat -- either chicken, or a lamb-and-beef combination -- is the centerpiece of several sandwiches. All are loaded with wonderfully fresh romaine, red onion, parsley and tomato, and served on chewy house-made pita bread, baked several times daily, that seems more substantial than most. Cool yogurt and mildly hot red sauce come on the side.
All sandwiches are $5.99 and can be ordered as a meal with fries or chips and a soda ($7.27) or with a soda and dessert ($8.18). I'm partial to the Damascus Chicken Doner, spread with creamy hummus, and the classic Istanbul Doner, filled with lamb and beef. Larger kebab platters involve meat, thick tomato sauce and garlicky yogurt, all draped over cubed and buttered bread ($8.99 each). Green salads are available for $5.99; add doner meat or falafel for an extra $1.50. The baklava ($3.25), a beautiful rendition filled with crushed pistachios and not at all too sweet, really should not be missed.
-- Catherine L. Barker (Sept. 16, 2009)