These are of variable appeal, with dryness being an intermittent issue. The best are quite fine and memorable, and in this category I would certainly put the chicken shawerma ($9.99), chunks of tender, boneless meat slow-roasted on one of those vertical spits to help retain moisture. Not far off the pace is shish taouk ($9.99), more boneless chicken chunks, grilled this time on skewers and not quite as tender or moist, though still tasty and with an appealing hint of char. For purposes of skewer grilling, the red meats hold up better, and Old Jerusalem offers both beef and lamb versions of shish kebab. The peripatetic appetite may well be most interested in the combination plate ($11.99), which offers an ensemble of skewer-grilled chicken, lamb, and beef, along with a length of grilled kifta, a kind of cilantro sausage — very tasty, but parched, we found, and in need of a sauce. (The restaurant filled with smoke shortly before this platter was presented to us. We could have been witnessing a magic act at the circus.)
So meat is hit-or-miss, but it is probably for the best that the rest of the world isn't quite as meat-involved as we are. When we move into the field of legumes — which are cheaper and healthier than meat and, in the view of many of us, tastier and more interesting too — Old Jerusalem reliably shines. There is the fine hummus. There is also a chickpea stew called fata ($4.99), a mix of whole and puréed chickpeas mixed with tahini sauce and spooned over torn chunks of pita bread. And there is qodsiah ($4.99), an addictive mix of hummus and foul, a similarly seasoned, rust-colored paste made from (presumably dried) fava beans. All are eminently scoopable with pita bread (baskets of which, still warm from the oven, are continually refreshed) and highly compatible with the plate of dill pickles and olives that is presented shortly after the menus.
The restaurant's signature dish takes the improbable form of a dessert. It is kunafa — "shredded wheat in goat cheese baked in syrup," says the menu card. Sounds dreadful as described, but it turns out to be a svelte square, jellyish red-orange on top, with a base layer of cheese. We took a pair of skeptical first bites but were soon won over by the mix of sour, fruit-sweet, and creamy, with a faint echo of crunch. You can get a single square for $4, and that's plenty for two people (it's rich), but the kunafa is also issued in larger denominations: A full sheet is $60, and there are half- and quarter-sheets available too: a triad, or trinity, of choices. SFBG
Old Jerusalem Restaurant
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
2976 Mission, SF