After six weeks of traveling around Spain this summer searching for cheap eats—those conversion rates are hurtful—I came to truly appreciate the classic Doner Kebab stand; it was cheap falafel or sharwarma that saved me from going bankrupt. Not only that, but kebabs really hit the spot—what pleasant, tidy little meals they make. And so when I found myself back in the old IE I went looking around, and I realized after a while—Kebab joints are scarce out here. That’s why, when I spotted Riverside Kebab while driving around one day, I dropped in looking for a spot of hummus.
The place isn’t much to look at. It’s nestled into a rather crappy section of University Avenue, with very little on the walls of note. Like so many restaurants these days, a television hovers over the diners like a giant pacifier . . . only, at Riverside Kebab, it’s set to the BBC instead of baseball highlights. Rather unappetizing photos of the food accost you as you head toward the cash register. At first glance this kebab joint didn’t rock my Kasbah.
But don’t judge a sharwarma shack by its tablecloths. As the evening progressed Riverside Kebab began to grow on me to the point that by the end of the meal I felt ashamed that I had ever doubted it to begin with. My transformation started with the service—good, old-fashioned, attentive American service. Drinks were refilled, opinions on the menu offered, hummus given, all with a smile on our waitresses’ face. I had forgotten that people could actually be attentive to you in a restaurant.
In the end, though, it was the food—it’s always the food. Initially I was a tad nervous in this respect. For starters, the pita Riverside Kebab serves as a courtesy comes with butter. This immediately gave me a bit of an airplane meal vibe. Not to worry, the pita bread itself was excellent, and for a few bucks more you can order a large plate of delicious oily and lemony hummus. This, along with an order of Torshi—which is fantastically pickled tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers—hit the spot and assuaged any ill-informed fears.
Since the temperature had dropped considerably to a coolish 95 degrees, I ordered the Geyme Badenjon—a stew featuring an amazing mix of yellow peas, beef, and eggplant that’s served with basmati rice. While not much to look at, the stew’s ingredients come together to create a mélange of delicious flavors that only become more intense when combined with Riverside Kebab’s sweet—yet fire-hot—chili sauce. Yum (sweat). Maybe it’s unfair, but our other entrée—the chicken kebab—could only suffer in comparison. The chicken was infused with a tangy yellow curry, which was slightly charred and actually quite nice, while the rest of the plate was indecorously piled with rice and a stewed tomatoes. Though the meat on a stick is the namesake, the chicken kebab needed just a tad more oomph.
On the whole Riverside Kebab is worth your time, especially as a lunch alternative. What it lacks in character it more than makes up for in service and high quality, healthy grub. Grub that hits the spot, just like I found in old Spain. With time, and the addition of falafel to the menu, Riverside Kebab could become an oasis on University Avenue to the fast-food chains that usually beckon.
Riverside Kebab, 1490 University Avenue Riverside, (951) 684-3997, Monday–Sunday 11:00AM–9:00PM, MC, V