Let’s first start with a definition. In the U.S., gyros have come to mean pretty much anything wrapped up in a pita. Traditionally, however, gyros are made from roast lamb or a combination of pressed lamb and beef sliced off a vertical rotisserie. Souvlaki are generally roasted meat kabobs (chicken, pork, beef or lamb) that are wrapped in pita. And what gyros are to Greeks, “Doner” is to the Turks. Instead of pita, they use Lavash flatbread, but the end result is pretty similar — sliced meat rolled up in a deliciously portable packet. We’ll just lump them all under “gyros” for the sake of this article. And let’s all agree that it’s pronounced yeeros, not jiro — as my dad refers to them.
Here’s what BiteClub (with the help of some Facebook friends) found…
Petalumans have an ongoing tug-of-war over which of their two Turkish gyro — excuse us, doner — spots rocks the Lavash harder. One the westside, Real Doner and on the eastside, Afendi’s. The good news: You’ll have plenty of fun testing them both to find out.
Real Doner: “The Real Doner in Petaluma will tell you that Doners rule over Gyros,” said Dave Devencenzi. Which, frankly, is true in this case. “I just had the best gyro of my life (and I am from Michigan where there is REALLY good Greek food) at Real Doner. Even though I live in Healdsburg, I will be making the trip just for this fantastic gyro,” said Allison Fuleky Ketcham. Real Doner is a no-frills family-run deli with where the focus isn’t on ambiance, but on the mini torpedos of meat, sauce, veggies and flatbread that serve up to hungry locals every day. 307 F. St. Petaluma, 707.765.9555.
Afendi’s Turkish Grill: If you’re a fan of Real Doner, then you may recognize Chef Joe Besir from his days in their kitchen. Now with a place of his own, Besir has taken his show across the freeway to the east side — more restaurant than deli — with all of his signature dishes. Gryos, of course, are on the menu (“doner”), made with Halal chicken, lamb and beef with his signature sauce, onions and cabbage. “One of the best I ever had!” said Robbin Montero. While you’re there, it’s worth trying his Sigara Borek (little “cigarettes” of filo and feta”; smoky baba ganouj and falafel. Belly dancers on Friday and Saturday night. 299 North McDowell Blvd, Petaluma, (707) 763-1998.
Taste of a Gyro: Chef Sondra Bernstein gives the heads up on Dominic Sammarco’s mobile gyro trolley near the Sonoma town square. He does traditional lamb as well as chicken gyros, but the secret’s in the sauce. In addition to tzatziki (a yogurt cucumber sauce), he douses his $6 hand’wiches with a selection sauces that go from mild to wild: ranch feta, jalapeno feta, habanero feta or the mouth-searing super fire hot red sauce (jalapenos, sirrano, habenero and body-numbing ghost peppers). “It’s all about creating your own taste,” he said. You’ll find business and construction folks rubbing elbows with a few adventurous high schoolers from 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday at the Sonoma Skate Shop (1001 Sonoma Ave., Sonoma) or Tuesday evenings at Sonoma’s farmer’s market.
Bobby The Greek: “Find the best homemade tzatziki and you’ll find the right gyros. Bobby’s at Wednesday night market is excellent,” said Timothy Jaxon. Bob Gekas will charm the money right out of your hands, plying you with his gyros and souvlaki (grilled lamb, chicken or pork) served on a warm pita with the aforementioned tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. Find him at the Wednesday night market in downtown Santa Rosa and on Saturdays at the Veteran’s Building Farmer’s Market.
Yanni’s Sausage Grill: Okay, so sausage isn’t exactly a gyro, but the building blocks at this tiny storefront are certainly in the same neighborhood. On the menu, eight flavors of sausage including Loukaniko, a rustic Greek sausage with citrus and spice; greek kalamata olive and feta sausage; and lamb sausage served with tzatziki. All are under $6, most under $5. 10007 Main St., Penngrove, 795-7088
Papa’s Taverna: The big daddy of Greek restaurants in the area, this Lakeville Hwy destination is all about the Opa! There’s a large selection of gyro and souvlaki, along with traditional entrees like roast leg of lamb and moussaka. It’s worth the trip on weekend evenings just for the bellydancing and live Greek music. 5688 Lakeville Hwy, Petaluma, 769-8545.
Pita Cafe: A number of readers swear by this unassuming Rohnert Park cafe, saying their lamb and chicken gyro are tops. According to Stephanie Moore Ansley: “Delicious gyros and gyro wraps.” I’ve been a couple times and found them to be solid — definitely a step above fast food — but not swoon-worthy. Then again, when you’re craving the gyro… 6585 Commerce Blvd # C, Rohnert Park, 707-588-9522.
CLOSED Daphne’s: Fast-food gyros that aren’t half-bad. A great way to introduce kids and leery friends to the whole gyro mystique. Plus, great healthy, low-cal options like grilled chicken, and a vegetarian plate of falafel, spanakopita, hummus and dolmas. 2280 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, (707) 566-6736.
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