Authentic Turkish street food, brilliant to see, brilliant to eat. That’s what you get at the Walnut Avenue hot spot Arslans, where the menu offers bold flavors without identity issues. This is food that knows what it is. And it’s off the charts delicious. Listening to the Traveling Wilburys, watching soccer, and inhaling plates filled with warm fragrant pita bread, garlic-infused spit-roasted lamb and chicken, dipping each bite into seriously zippy hot sauce—that was our lunch last week at Arslans. Run by the talented, hardworking team of Yunus and Marissa Arslan, this is a popular pit-stop for downtown workers, visitors, and inquiring foodies like ourselves. We were blown away by the quality. Of course! After all, this is food that has been taste-tested for thousands of years. We added a chilled bottle of Tamarind soda ($4, good choice to partner spicy cuisine, btw) The central item on the energetic menu is the acclaimed döner (pronounced do-nut, with a soft “t”). If you’ve enjoyed Greek gyros, or shawarma, then you have a good idea of the döner. The aromas filling the two-dining room shop had us all but drooling, and the rotisserie roasted döner is why. I order the combo döner wrap, which involved beef and lamb and chicken, plus a host of accompaniments: fries, carrots, onions, lettuce, tomato and red cabbage, slathered with two sauces, (there’s some lemony-smoky sumac in the mix somewhere) all tightly packed into thin lavosh ($14.50). The huge wrap was the size of the Bosporus and came with an army of thin-sliced dill pickles. Meanwhile, my companion went for a gorgeous platter of beef and lamb döner ($20), that arrived with an acreage of micro-shredded lettuce, cabbage, arugula, and tomato salad on one side of the plate, a mound of moist, buttery rice pilaff on the other. The centerpiece thin slices of spiced meats lay under a soft blanket of warm fresh pita. A white sauce of mayo, yogurt, dill and garlic added more flavor magic, but I was an immediate fan of the house hot sauce, involving high wattage spices (smoked paprika, plus cumin, cinnamon) and hot red peppers.
Sexy food, without question, each bite a poem to the timeless appeal of garlic and we ate for long minutes before we came up for air. Patrons seated around us were inhaling huge bowls of colorful salads, and others stopped by for their carry-out orders. I can see how Arslans could become a regular lunch stop for anyone with tastebuds.
Lunch began with an order of baba ganoush ($8) surrounded with quarters of tender pita served in a blue pottery bowl. The smoky roasted eggplant had been mixed with roast tomatoes and sweet peppers, which made it lighter than the tahini-infused version of this Mediterranean classic. I could have eaten it all day long. But then I could have eaten the house pita bread all day long too. Warm and tumescent it was an outstanding example of the ancient staple. Let me be clear: the Arslans wrap is flat-out fantastic. I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun eating lunch. The balance of ingredients is precise and accurate. Nothing else is needed to make every bite sensational. Big flavors and huge portions. Inflation fighting at its tastiest. And the baklava! The moist, flaky rectangles of filo encrusted with butter, pistachios and honey were imported from Turkey. Ethereal yet not too sweet, this is the feather-light dessert finish that spicy food requires ($4). We left this dining spot happily full and ready to go back soon. Actually, I could have eaten this entire meal all over again. Immediately!
Arslans Turkish Street Food – 113 Walnut Ave, SC Open daily 11:30am—8pm, ’til 9pm Fri&Sat.