Best Donair in Vancouver? You make the call!

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Among the underappreciated culinary treasures in Vancouver is the donair.  In the right hands, this exquisite little combination of seasoned strips of roasted meat, fresh pita and flavourful toppings can match the most haute of haute cuisine served in the city’s fine restaurants.  Offered in humble, mom-and-pop stands, the donair is also appealingly affordable – coming in under $10.

The donair (sometimes spelled doner) originated in Turkey sometime in the 18th century and has since spread around the world.  In Greece, it’s the gyro.  In the Middle East, it’s the shawarma.  A donair starts with roasted meat – usually lamb, beef or chicken – cooked on a vertical spit that spins around.  The meat is shaved off in thin strips and then wrapped in a pita.

Those are the fundamentals.  But some would say a donair is truly distinguished by its toppings.  Choices range from traditional hummus and tzatziki to more new wave options like pickled cabbage, salsa and lime juice.

There are perhaps hundreds of donair joints in the Lower Mainland, many clustered along Granville and Davie Streets, where they draw crowds of late night revelers.  I’d like to know your picks.

Do you have a favourite place for donairs in Vancouver?  Share your favourites below.

I’ll start things off with a discovery I made over the weekend (Judging from the hundreds of comments on Yelp, this is hardly a new discovery).

Right in the heart of Davie Street is an unassuming little place called Donair Dude.  From the outside, it’s pretty indistinguishable from half-a-dozen other donair joints in the area: tiny storefront, bright neon sign in the window, fragrant smell of roasting meat wafting out the door.

Inside, however, the differences become apparent.   Whereas many places offer just a few toppings, Donair Dude has an enormous spread of very fresh options: hummus, spicy pepper spread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, green peppers, tabbouleh, tzatziki, feta cheese and about a dozen more that I’m forgetting.  As for meat, you can choose between beef, lamb and chicken – all of which seem to be fresh, lean and in general a cut above what’s offered at some competing joints.

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The other distinguishing factor is the size of the donairs.  They start you out with an enormous pita, which is then expertly stuffed by the staff.  Importantly, the pita is never overfilled.  What you’re handed in the end is not some sloppy, dripping mess but a neat, tidy package of seasoned meat and veggies.   And it’s a true two-hander.  The donair you end up with could easily be two meals . . . or one giant, indulgent one.

Last but not least, there’s the price.  I’m not sure how this is possible, but the donairs are only $6.50.  For the size of the dish and the quality, that has to be one of the best bangs for the buck in the city.

But of course there are plenty of other fantastic donair places in Vancouver. What’s your favourite?  Please share your secrets below. 

Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond?  Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza

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30 Responses to Best Donair in Vancouver? You make the call!

  1. Rohan

    Donair Star @ 12th & Nanaimo in New Westminster.

    • Avi

      Donair Star is the best in New West

  2. Chris

    Any donair spots in Richmond? Thanks for the article

  3. Jilu

    Anatolia’s Gate !! – they have just opened a small store at the front of the new convention centre (overlooking the water), and their parent store in Burnaby (in the middlegate area, near the Honda dealership) bakes the pita fresh and cooks the meat after you order!! So so good!!!

  4. Atone

    Without a doubt Babylon Cafe on Robson, and also their second location on Denman. Best shwarma chicken, always crispy and lots of it. Great fillins too….mmmm

    • Eva

      Babylon Cafe on Robson, Chicken Shawerma with Falafel

  5. Ckredhead

    Domain king on davie!!!!!

    • Ckredhead

      I meant donair of course.

  6. Lambros

    I personally enjoy going to Abdul BBQ & Shawarma.
    It’s a terrific place. The meat is always fresh and of a higher grade. The difference between Shawarma and Donair is that Shawarma is supposed to be made from good cuts of meat, where Donair can be made from any piece of scrap meat. If you’re going there expecting the have a generic scrap-meat wrap Donair, think again, you’ll get delicious juicy meat chunks that have been slow cooked. They make falafels as well, which they will only fry for you upon request and not have them ready-made from the day before (It’s best to call them on your way there to have them ready for you by the time you get there). This gem of a place is located at Crystal Mall (the Asian mall by Metrotown) in Burnaby.
    Sorry it’s completely away from Downtown, Vancouver, but it’s worth the drive/skytrain ride to Burnaby. Nothing beats this place!

    • Asdf

      Abduls BBQ is delisious I do construction. In the area and I eat there every day for lunch it is so f’ing good

  7. kale

    Pita House on 46th and Fraser. Best shawarma I’ve had in the city, hands down.

  8. Shirley

    Falafael King on Denman : )

  9. Nick

    Wish there was more east Indian style Donner in Vancouver. Back in the UK – they are served on Naan bread, with lamb donner, chicken, sheeh and seekh meat. I find all the ones here are more Turkish / greek in origin. Still good but i prefer the indian style.

  10. Bert

    Donair Dude was so good! They are practically big enough to two people.

    • Bert – I know. They’re huge – great for take-out on a Saturday night. Enough to satisfy a borgle-sized appetite.

  11. A

    mmm yum! I always got o Falafel King on Denman, but I think the place is getting renovated now.
    Gonna give this Donaire Dude a try soon!

  12. Shona

    Our favourite place for a great donair is in Kitsilano. Al Basha on West Broadway is awesome! Great price and tasty donairs.

  13. Jason

    Holy Falafel in Langley, handsdown best shawarma/donair/falafel in western Canada. I am originally from Europe and lived in the Middle East for many years. Have eaten authentic Lebanese and Middle Eastern food religously all my life. To date have been disappointed with Canadian versions of this wonderfully complex and healthy tasty cuisine… Until at a friend’s advice I was todl to check out Holy Falafel in Langley. Without a doubt the best and most authentic shawarma and falafel (fresh!) in Western Canada, and I would even so far as to say in Canada from my travels. Reminds me very much of the Shawarma restaurants in Europe and Middle East… These guys have taken this genre to a whole new level. Love the art-house contemporary clean atmosphere and sound system there too! Is this a chain from Europe or Israel??? Impressive.

    • Hey Jason – Never heard of this one but now I’m tempted to drive out to Langley to try. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Thomas

      I know this place for the past 2 years and I understand that your post is more than 2 years old still they are the best I have ever had. I have tried close to 20 different shawarma places in the lower mainland and nothing matches the quality and taste of holy falafel in Langley township. I visit this place at least once a month and love there blackened shawarma on whole wheat pita.

  14. Amy

    Vancouver Donair is my all time favourite on Commerial Drive!

  15. Avi

    Mega Donair in coquitlam on Clarke Rd.

    Pits is rolled from dough form in front of you and cooked on a grill to give it color…then piled full of toppings…can’t get fresher than that. Parsley is a good add on but the kicker is the pickled carrots…Gotta go with the lamb! beef and chicken were average

  16. joel

    Golden Pita Lebanese – hands down is the best Shawarma. I’m not sure they do donairs. I’m from Ottawa where we pride ourselves on our Lebanese food. The best donairs Ive expereinced was in Hong Kong – (I forget the name); Maroush in Ottawa – (this was about 10 years ago ) and Golden Pita near loughheed mall- it’s a hidden gem. Their food is a bit pricey for what you get but worth it if your interested in experiencing a top quality Shawarma. Their pickeled turnips are homemade, they grill their shawarma’s and use some fantastic ingredients. note : don’t be dissapointed on the size until you take your first bite.

  17. david

    Doner kebab Kitsilano
    This place is awesome and donair is so testy try chicken plate

  18. Nick

    Mega Donair on clarke rd in port moody. Honestly the biggest donair I’ve seen. They make fresh wraps on every order. His own recepie combing pita, naann, and I think tortilla together. Delicious, try and eat a Mega doniar in one sitting.

  19. R Billard

    Okay so, I had a craving for a real Donair. A real Halifax Donair. The Donair, or the Donner as the Lebanese call them, was introduced to Canada in 1971 by a restaurant in Bedford Nova Scotia. The owner then came up with the “sweet sauce” to differentiate it from the Shwarma and the Gyro. It quickly became a hit and then King of Donair in Halifax bought the rights to it and the Halifax Donair was born. Later it has been moving across the country but seems to have stalled in Alberta since so many Maritimers stayed there and couldn’t figure out how to scale mountains.

    So… I research where I can get a Halifax Donair. This place comes up on 12th Street in New West called Donair Star. They advertise a Halifax Donair.

    This is what happened:
    -I order.
    -He gets out a full dry pita and opens it up to make a pouch. WRONG
    -He puts in large wedges of tomatoes. WRONG
    -He puts in diced onions. RIGHT
    -He then turns around and shovels out of a hot bowl the sliced anemic beef and stuffs it into the pocket of the pita. WRONG
    -Pulls out a white squeeze bottle and squeezed something into the pocket. WRONG
    -Then he folds it all up into a tightly packed ball and hands it to me. WRONG
    -All of this took about 25 seconds.

    I left cringing.

    This is how you make a real Halifax Donair:

    -Slice the properly flavourful and spiced pressed beef from the spit.
    -Place the pile of sliced meat on the hot flat oven plate.
    -Spray the meat with water and or oil.
    -Mix the meat. This will cook the meat further and provide the golden brown colour of the meat and seal in the flavours.
    -Place a pita that is sized to the order (small, medium, large), whole, on top of the meat on the grill.
    -Spray the pita and meat again with water/oil. Not too much.
    -Place a flat tray or pan over the meat and the pita to trap the juices and flavour.
    -Remove the pita and mix up the meat. The pita should be warm and slightly moist.
    -Move to another station and lay the pita down and place the meat on it then layer the diced onions and diced tomatoes on it.
    -Ask the client how much sauce they want.
    -Ladle the appropriate amount of the signature Halifax Donair sauce over the meat and vegetables.
    -Wrap up the pita with a fold at the bottom and then in a round so that the top is open.
    -Wrap the whole thing tightly in tinfoil.
    -Give to customer
    .
    It should take about three or four minutes.

    If you don’t do these steps above. Don’t ever call it a Halifax Donair.

    What Donair Star created was a bland and flavourless ball of grey meat, dry pita and chunky tomato.
    grrrrr…..

    • Sue

      Hon, you are absolutely right on the mark! As a Scotian girl who’s lived in Vancouver for 15 years , I still remember the days or nights,lol , we’d end up at King of Donair’s ( Tony’s) when the bars shut down. They made the donair ‘s right and I haven’t found anything even close since. I had found this place called Halifax Donair’s in North Van where I live, but they’ve been closed for about ten years or so. The search continues….

  20. mike

    DONAIR STAR

  21. Christoph

    Mr. Greek on Granville is our big favorite for Donairs in the city.

    $5 for a big, delicious donair that they grill both the meat, and the completed donair right in front of you so that it’s nice and crisp. Extra hungry? Get a large one, and you won’t need to eat again for the rest of the day.

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