In 2013, Yunus Arslan immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey, where he had primarily worked as a cook. In San Francisco, Arslan’s skills led to positions at restaurants like Ala Turkey, but he wanted his own place that served the Turkish street food he grew up with and loves. His wife, Marissa, supported her husband’s passion and would contribute what she learned in business school to handle the finances.
The former Falafel House in downtown Santa Cruz was an ideal space, with a built-in Mediterranean customer base. When Arslans Turkish Street Food opened last August, it was embraced immediately by foodies. The menu flagship, the Doner Kebab, is thinly sliced lamb and beef stacked on a vertical cone, cut to order and then wrapped or plated. They also offer an authentic red lentil kofte, a seasoned patty with bulgur (cracked parboiled groats that resembles couscous), and Turkish Delight for dessert. The sweet treat, a cross between mochi and taffy, comes in pomegranate, roasted pistachio or rose petal flavors.
Hours are 11am-8pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Marissa discussed Turkish cuisine and the local response to Arslans.
How would you describe Turkish food?
MARISSA ARSLAN: Very underrated, in my opinion, and very healthy, delicious and unique. It’s definitely very distinct from Greek food, although there are some similarities. What sets Turkish food apart is herbs and spices like sumac, mint and fresh Italian parsley, as well as ingredients like bulgur, red lentils and a special fat rice called Baldo. Our main dish, the Doner Kebab, is the true OG of vertical cone cooking, dating back to the 16th century Ottoman Empire. It’s extremely popular all over Europe, almost like a hamburger in the U.S.
How has the food been received?
I’ve been blown away by the reviews and feedback we have gotten from customers. Turkish people eat our food and say it brings them back to Istanbul. People love our product and say it’s the real deal, and I’m so happy to provide authentic Turkish food to both people who grew up eating it and people who have never tried it before.
113 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-459-9770; arslansturkishstreetfood.com.