New Syrian restaurant in El Cajon could be the answer to our lunch dreams

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Photo by Mary York. Mal Al Sham’s beef shawarma with a side salad to-go.

 

Middle Eastern food isn’t hard to find in East County, but finding the perfect spot for your lunch break can be. Mal Al Sham – or, the Taste of Damascus – is here to change that.

Catty Corner to the well-known and well-loved Ali Baba, Mal Al Sham just replaced an­other Middle Eastern restaurant that once tried to make it on that competitive corner. While any restaurant has its work cut out for it standing against Ali Baba, which is known around the county, Mal Al Sham may have an edge on its predecessor: it’s chill.

Where the previous restau­rant sold much the same cuisine, it had a formal sit-down feel in­side with large tables spread out, ready to host big parties. Mal Al Sham has tables of two and four scattered around their diner-like floor plan, with an easy view into the kitchen and a large menu board above the cash register.

Immediately, upon walking through the door, a guest thinks, “Ah, this will be simple.”

And it is. The friendly staff will make suggestions and answer questions about their tikka and shawarma. Their Syrian-styled food is well-cooked, though it’s nothing fancy.

The dressings are good, the rice is colorful and the portions are large.

And because Mal Al Sham is marketing itself more as a “quick bite” type of spot, it does not seem to be in competition with Ali Baba which boasts a more formal meal experience with sit-down service and ornate furnishings.

If you work anywhere in downtown El Cajon, this is a good place to go for lunch. It is reasonably priced, always has available parking and – if it’s not too hot outside – makes for a nice walk-to destination.