Zaad brings shawarma, saj wraps, kebabs, salads and dips made the way they are in the Middle East to Toronto.
Most everything is made from scratch in house, including pickles, fresh-pressed juices and even baked goods.
The space is much more refined and comfortable than many takeout shawarma spots, with bold tiling and coloured mason jar light fixtures.
Saj wraps are $9 for a 12-inch size, the flatbread one of very few things not made here but the chicken loaded onto the spit on site, a mix of 60 per cent white meat and 40 per cent dark, lamb fat melting away on top rendering the meat juicy and flavourful.
Before that, it’s given a simple marinade with salt, pepper, garlic, lots of onion, fresh lemon and orange. It sings in the floury wrap with tangy and acidic pickled cucumber and cabbage pickled with beets.
Fries ($4) are easy to write off at casual shawarma places, but here they’re fresh cut and seasoned with fragrant and punchy rosemary and cayenne. Everything can be dipped in a sharp, textured garlic sauce as well as secret weapon Zaad sauce, almost like a Mac sauce.
Dips and vegan salads are $5 across the board, including a beet and apple salad, classic Greek salad and a tabbouli made with quinoa instead of cracked wheat that’s always dressed with fresh lemon and oil right before serving, so it’s not soggy.
Dips include house hummus, fava bean ful and roasty, bittersweet baba ghanouj made from eggplants roasted whole in house.
A saj platter ($12) is essentially the standard representation of a dinner plate here, but like the wraps, nothing is business as usual. Choose salad or fries, or opt for brown basmati rice with its healthy, earthy husk left on.
Mounds of more pickled cabbage and fiery pickles to rival those at Cinderella along with greens are piled on the side. Opt for chicken or lamb and beef shawarma, or go with the vegetarian house falafel, golden brown and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, smothered in tahini, hummus and hot sauce.
Almost all items on a shelf are made here, including jars of pickles and $4 boxes of desserts like date and pistachio cookies and what are explained to me as syrupy, crunchy Middle Eastern versions of loukoumades made with sugar water.
Fresh juices pressed by hand before your eyes include pineapple, mango, lemon and orange carrot.
The offerings seem to go on and on: vegan kebabs made on their own dedicated grill, $7 jars of house goat cheese coated in black sesame or red pepper, and samples are constantly handed out throughout my time here.