Three University of San Diego alumni and a relative aim to run the nation’s most authentic Middle Eastern quick-service restaurants
What started as a fruitless quest by two local college students to find authentic Middle Eastern food in San Diego has come to fruition this month with the opening of Simsim Outstanding Shawarma in Carmel Mountain Ranch.
The modern, fast-casual restaurant, which held its grand opening on Monday, serves dishes cooked with the same ingredients and techniques that you’d find in countries like Jordan, Kuwait or Lebanon. And like most homes and restaurants in the Middle East, Simsim guests are served on china plates and greeted with choice of complimentary fresh-brewed milk tea.
“We wanted to re-create the experience of the food and hospitality of the Middle East,” said co-founder, president and CEO Nawar Miri, a San Diego resident whose family roots are in Iraq. “Our position is to educate you about our food and culture. We want to be the standard for shawarma.”
The new restaurant is located next door to the Angelika Film Center at 11640 Carmel Mountain Road, Suite 124. The menu, with most items priced at $9 to $10, serves shawarma wraps with fries, bowls, salads and falafel and other sides and sauces. Beginning next week, the shop will also add a selection of kebob plates priced from $10 to $16, plus a $29 kebob family combo.
Unlike many restaurants that simplify ethnic menus with photographs and Americanized names, Simsim uses the original names of the dishes and has an open kitchen area where diners can see their dishes being prepared. Miri said he hopes this encourages diners to ask questions and experiment with new flavors.
The restaurant’s name, Simsim, is the Arabic word for sesame, since sesame seeds are a big part of Middle Eastern cuisine. Shawarma is seasoned meat or poultry that is stacked on a revolving vertical skewer that rotates in a roasting oven. At Simsim, the meat shawarma is made from cuts of 70 percent Angus beef and 30 percent grass fed lamb. The chicken shawarma is made with antiobiotic-free chicken, Miri said.
Other signature dishes include muhammara, a roasted red pepper spread; fattoush, a Lebanese salad; fatteh, a chickpea dish; moutabel, an eggplant spread; mahalabia, a baked date dessert; and hibiscus tea. Everything is made in-house, including the tortilla-like saj bread, under the direction of executive chef Ibrahim AlSharief, a four-star hotel chef from Jordan who was recruited from the Middle East to join the company when it was started last year.
Simsim is the brainchild of brothers Ali and Hasan AlMatrouk, who came to Southern California from Kuwait to attend the University of San Diego and Cal State Fullerton. When they couldn’t find their native food locally, they decided over a cup of coffee that they would create their own. They brought in fellow USD alumnus Sean Zanganeh of San Diego and his brother-in-law, Miri, who brought experience from the hospitality and real estate industries.
Miri, who formerly worked in the hotel industry and for the quick-service food chain Urban Plates, said that while there was Arabic-style food in San Diego, it was mostly being served in old-fashioned restaurants decorated to look like Middle Eastern hotels or bazaars. For Simsim, they wanted a clean, modern, upscale look that resembled American chains like Urban Plates or Tender Greens.
The team opened their first Simsim location in August 2018 at 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Miri said they’ve learned a lot since opening that store so the new one in Carmel Mountain Ranch is larger and will serve a broader array of menu items, in response to customer requests. Miri said the long-term plan is to open 10 Simsim locations throughout Southern California in the next five years, then begin franchising the concept nationally.
Simsim Outstanding Shawarma
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.
Where: 11640 Carmel Mountain Road, Suite 124, San Diego
Phone: (858) 430-6717