O.C.’s Best: Meat on a Stick (Skewers)

Is there anything more primal and delicious than meat on a stick, hot from an open flame or the grill? We think not.

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

Just about every culture has its own version. Whether it’s “yakitori” in Japan, “souvlaki” in Greece, or “kebob” in the Middle East, food cooked on a skewer or spit has undeniable universal appeal. Here are six great places in Orange County where you can find a delicious meal hot from the fire.

1 Al Tannour

Orange County’s first Iraqi restaurant is a true find, with sublime hummus and house-made khubz, crisp giant discs of thick flatbread that arrive warm from the oven. All the better to whet your appetite for a party platter of mixed kebobs, pictured, from ground beef and ground chicken, to chicken breast and lamb, everything cooked over charcoal and served with rice, hummus, salad, and pickled turnips. Perfect for a hungry group. $40 to $50 for kebob feast for three or four people; a la carte kebobs start at $10. 2947 W. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-484-0900, al-tannour.com

2 Panini Cafe

The name of this small chain doesn’t exactly conjure images of authentic Mediterranean cuisine, but make no mistake: Its chicken shish kebob is one of the very best around. An oval platter arrives with an almost foot-long skewer of perfectly charbroiled chicken and vegetables, along with your choice of salad (Caesar, Greek, or avocado romaine) and basmati rice or bulgar wheat pilaf. The chunks of meat are always incredibly succulent and bursting with lemony flavor. $10. Locations in Aliso Viejo, Irvine, and Newport Beach; mypaninicafe.com

3 Shin Sen Gumi

This Japanese izakaya might be one of Orange County’s finest hidden gems. Upon entering the cozy pub, you’re greeted with a boisterous welcome from the staff. Sit at the bar, and you’ll be faced with glass cases full of assorted ready-to-cook meats on bamboo skewers. But it’s the slender grill manned by a lone izakaya chef where all the magic happens. Your meats are cooked to order over briquettes that impart a delicious kiss of char. Must-orders include short rib with radish ponzu; squid bathed in basil pesto; okra; coarse-ground sausages; and pork-belly-wrapped cherry tomatoes. $1.50 to $8.50 per stick. 18315 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 714-962-8952, shinsengumigroup.com

4 Istanbul Grill

Never mind its strip plaza location—the steady crowd of mostly Middle Eastern families that gather here for dinner is plenty proof that the fare at this contemporary Turkish restaurant is legit. The adana kebobs, seasoned ground lamb with crushed red peppers on flat metal skewers, are tender and full of flavor, as are the lamb shish kebobs. You’ll want to order one of each. $11 to $21. 18010 Newhope St., Fountain Valley, 714-430-1434, istanbulgrillca.com

5 Luna Grill

This growing chain of fast-casual Mediterranean eateries offers the usual varieties of kebobs, from ground sirloin to boneless chicken and lamb, but go for the Cornish game hen, which comes four or five pieces on a skewer. The little bones aside, they’re much more flavorful than white meat chicken. $10 to $14. Locations in Huntington Beach, Irvine, and Lake Forest; lunagrill.com 

6 Doner G

What the Greeks call “gyros” and Middle Easterners call “shawar-ma,” the Turks call “doner” (doh-nair). At Doner G, chicken and beef are broiled on separate vertical spits, and the meat is shaved off in thin slices. Try the Iskender Kebob Plate, a traditional dish in Turkey, with slices of beef doner basted with Iskender sauce and melted butter on a bed of cubed pita pieces. Or get the Adana wrap, with marinated ground lamb that’s skewered and grilled, then tucked inside crisp, warm lavash. $5 to $17. 3800 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, 949-861-2626; 2139 E. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-956-0123; donerg.com 

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