Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill on Central Avenue

In the mid 80s when my Kim and I lived in rural, agrarian England, a “sandwich” meant one of three things: a warm, fresh floury bap with butter, Cheddar cheese and Branston’s Pickle from our favorite bakery in Lechlade; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (with chips (fries), of course) from The Plough in Fairford; or a doner kebab from a jankety kebab house in Banbury.

There just weren’t many other sandwich options (not to mention burgers and pizza) in the Cotswolds region of England where we lived and certainly no subs, grinders, torpedoes, po’ boys or hoagies. In fact, to our British hosts, the notion that “Yanks” had so many options and fillings for our sandwiches was sheer lunacy on the level of King George, III. Never mind that the bread-encased convenience food known as the “sandwich” was invented by Englishman John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

Anatolia’s expansive dining room

Of the three sandwiches, the memories of all which still rekindle pangs of hunger, our favorite was the doner kebab. It was our special occasion sandwich, the extravagance of which we chose to partake on birthdays and anniversaries. It was the indulgence on which we splurged (we were very poor back then) when we wanted to maximize our culinary enjoyment and stretch our pounds (English monetary unit). To this day—more than 25 years later—memories of those doner kebabs stir the type of powerful emotions one associates with the most pleasant of memories–on par with olfactory-arousing memories of my grandma’s tortillas just off the comal.

We weren’t the only ones crazy for kebabs. In England, where they’re even served in pubs, doner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re especially popular following a night of adult beverage excess, but are beloved at any time. If possible, they’re even more popular in Germany, where, as in England, large communities of Turkish immigrants settled. Doner kebabs are, in fact, the most popular street food in Germany, by far exceeding the popularity of the German source of historical and cultural pride, the sausage.

Babaghannoug with Pita

Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in England who doesn’t like doner kebabs is contrarian extraordinaire Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.” Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches.

If you’ve never had a doner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it. A doner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared. On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce and (or) lettuce, onions and tomatoes.

Falafel with hummus

By American standards, the Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill (formerly the Anatolia Doner Kebab House) could hardly be called upscale, but it’s posh and elegant compared to the jankety little kebab house in Banbury. After several years in a nondescript edifice on Fifth Street just north of Central in the downtown area, Anatolia nearly doubled its real estate (from 1,100 square-feet to 2,106 square feet) when it moved to Central Avenue, making it even that much larger than many kebab houses in England, some of which are hardly more than roadside stands. Best of all, Anatolia’s menu includes a number of Turkish delicacies more than a step above street food. Anatolia’s menu touts its cuisine as “what mama used to make.”

Mama must have been one heckuva cook. The food at Anatolia is so good that our server declared confidently that we’d be back within a week. That was three days before my first return visit. I can’t yet state that Anatolia transports me back to England because I have yet to try Anatolia’s version of my beloved doner kebab. During my first two visits the specials of the day were too tempting to pass up. If that trend persists, it may be a while before I get to try the doner kebab.

Combination Platter: Chicken Kebab, Beef Kebab, Ground Beef, Onion Salad, Pita, Rice, Green Chile and Cacik

5 January 2013: The first special was a combination platter consisting of three meat skewers: chicken kebab, beef kebab and ground beef as well as an onion salad, several wedges of pita, a single roasted green chile, rice and Cacik, a very refreshing and cool sauce made with cucumber, yoghurt, mint, olive oil and spices. The meats are perfectly grilled and seasoned masterfully. All three meats are fork-tender and devoid of any annoying fat or sinew. The onion salad is drizzled with a sweet-tangy dressing, but would have been more interesting with just a bit of feta. The warm and delicious pita is the only item on the menu that’s not made on the premises, but it’s a high-quality pita. The Cacik (what Greeks call tzaziki) is outstanding while the rice is buttery, but not especially memorable.

8 January 2013: Owners Mehmet and Umut Kokangul pay homage to their Turkish hometown with the Adana Shish Kabob, the special of the day during my second visit. Unlike other kebabs offered at Anatolia, the Adana is pleasantly piquant courtesy of Aleppo peppers, a Turkish pepper favorite with balanced heat and rich, sweet and smoky notes. This kebab has the texture similar to meatballs, but in an elongated meat package. Because of its heat properties, it should become a favorite of Duke City diners.

Adana Shish Kabob
Adana Shish Kabob

5 July 2013: Appetizers are very inexpensive at Anatolia where you can get single-sized portions of falafel and dolmas for under a dollar. The falafel, fried balls of spiced chickpeas and favabeans, are quite good, especially for the price. Even better are the dolmas which are homemade. You can definitely tell the difference between the canned dolmas served at many Middle Eastern restaurants and the homemade dolmas served at Anatolia. The grape leaves are fresher and the flavors of lemon zest and olive oil permeate each bite.

8 July 2013: Anatolia’s babaghannoug is among the very best in the city (as well as one of the most challenging to spell). The combination of olive oil, roasted eggplant and tahini (a sesame paste) is ameliorated with Turkish spices to form a wonderful dip for the pita bread. For an even more eye-opening, mouth-watering version, ask for the spicy babaghannoug which is punctuated with the bite of the Aleppo pepper. The color of the hummus resembles Thousand Island dressing and that’s not the only way in which Anatolia’s hummus differs from most in the Duke City. Texturally it’s somewhat creamier than most and it’s also more heavily seasoned, including a good amount of cumin.

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate
Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

29 July 2015: Dessert at Turkish restaurants means baklava, or more specifically pistachio baklava. It’s not sodden with the dreaded corn syrup as some baklava tends to be. Instead, trust that real honey is used. This is a buttery, flaky pastry whose sweetness is mitigated with ground green pistachios. It’s homemade and is among the very best I’ve ever had.

12 July 2013: When John L, a very discerning gastronome whose opinions I value, wrote about a less than stellar dining experience at Anatolia, I surmised John must have visited on a rare off day. Still his comments hastened my return with my good friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Paul “Boomer” Lilly and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott in tow. It was their first visit and they weren’t privy to any discouraging words about Anatolia. All three of them found their meals very enjoyable (especially the pistachio baklava) and promised to return.

Pistachio Baklava

12 July 2013: The special of the day was leg of lamb shish kabob. At fourteen dollars, it was the most expensive item I’ve seen on Anatolia’s menu, but also one of the most delicious. The lamb was tender, moist and perfectly seasoned, but there wasn’t a lot of it, so each small bite was cherished with small bites. The special included a roasted green chile, rice and a salad. Only the rice was unremarkable.

My friend and colleague John Flaco spent significant time in Anatolia, but didn’t know about the restaurant until hearing about it from me. We visited on July 29th, 2015 with our friend Elaine Ascending who’d never experienced Turkish food before. John confirmed the authenticity and “just as delicious as Turkey” quality of the food at Anatolia while Elaine uncovered another cuisine she’ll want to experience again and in exactly one week later.

Leg of Lamb Kebab Sandwich

5 August 2015: It took until my fifth visit to Anatolia before I finally ordered a sandwich…and it wasn’t a doner kebab. Interest piqued by its sheer uniqueness, I ordered a leg of lamb kebab sandwich, something we never saw in all the kebab eateries in England. Leg of lamb isn’t the sole unique ingredient from which this sandwich is crafted. French fries occupy the very top layer. They’re a bit on the flaccid side and don’t add much to the flavor profile so you might want to pluck them off and enjoy the other ingredients: mixed greens, a dill-cucumber sauce and tender, moist leg of lamb so heavily (and heavenly) spiced that it’ll wreck your breath. The French fry anomaly aside, this is an excellent sandwich!

Some psychologists credit the dissolution of the family unit as the reason behind America’s social ills. It’s also thought that families which dine together, stay together. In June, 2013, Urbanspoon put together its list of the most popular family-friendly restaurants in America and two Albuquerque eateries were on the list. Apparently Duke City families enjoy going out for non-American food because the two honorees were Anatolia Doner Kebab and Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining, both outstanding choices.

Don’t be surprised if Anatolia’s doner kebab makes it to my best sandwich list. That is if I ever get to try the doner kebab, which considering those fantastic specials of the day may not be too soon. Anatolia is a terrific Turkish restaurant in a city which welcomes diversity and has long been overdue for the authentic flavors, hospitality and deliciousness of Turkey.

Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant
313 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 August 2015
1st VISIT: 5 January 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pistachio Baklava, Babaghannoug, Pita, Falafel, Combination Platter, Leg of Lamb Shish, Leg of Lamb Kebab Sandwich

17 thoughts on “Anatolia Turkish & Mediterranean Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Great news! These guys are back, but they’re now known as Meso Grill operating over at the Saw Mill Market. They’re open every day from 11 to 9. The menu is pared down, but it all looks good. No Turkish coffee, but they do have Turkish soda, along with that wonderful baklava.

    1. Thank you, Sarita. Sr. Plata and I visited the Sawmill Market on Wednesday, but he was jonesing for some rotisserie chicken. We did stop at Mesa to gas at the great Middle Eastern food. Next time we’ll eat there.

  2. I’d love it if they could at least start up a food truck. That’s mobile kitchen to you, Gil. Some folks on the Facebook post suggested that, and I think it’s a great idea.

    1. Oh no, Sarita. The punchline only works when you say “That’s mobile kitchen to you, Bob.” Our friends Bob and Becky tried for years to convert me to using “food truck” instead of “mobile kitchen,” so there’s irony in attributing “mobile kitchen” to Bob. Becky would never let me get away with it.

      1. I don’t know what was wrong with the old traditional name-Roach Coach. Of course it had negative connotations but it kept up an ancient tradition.

  3. Thanks Sarita for letting us know, it was a great and special restaurant and enjoyed joining Gil there! Being part Turkish made it extra special when I would have a Turkish Coffee and ‘want’ a Baklava. Maybe they can find somewhere where they have a outside patio and can get back in business.

  4. I am sad to report that this is to be added to your “Gone But Not Forgotten” section. This was their Facebook announcement on October 21: “It’s with a heavy heart we announce the closing of Anatolia, we tried to survive Covid, but these last few months have bankrupted us, we are unable to provide the food and service that our customers deserve. We would like to thank you for your many many years of dedication.”

  5. We wandered into this place not knowing a thing about it (read Gil’s review only after dining there). Wasn’t expecting much. Very pleased. I had the spicy beef, which was hugely flavorful (kinda fatty in a good way) and accompanied by some moist grilled red pepper. I did like the rice, moist and buttery. My son’s chunk of donner meat was lovely, very well spiced with spot-on heat. Good onion salad. Pita and hummus = meh. Service was informal and welcoming. Families all around us. Can’t wait to try other dishes here — I wanted the lamb but didn’t dare on first visit. Will get it next time. Maybe next week.

  6. My daughter and I tried this place for the first time this afternoon. It was amazing. I had the spicy beef and she had the chicken – also spinach rolls as an appetizer. Everything was tender, fresh and very flavorful. We will definitely be regulars here. They are moving to a new location on Central between 4th and 5th very soon.

  7. Hmm… I think Gil just has good luck with this place. Based on the previous review, and the recent redeeming review after the negative comments, I had my hopes up very high for some classic babaghannoug as picture above. However, we were informed that the recipe had changed to a “Turkish-style” fried baba. What we got was a very small plate ($4.99) of slimey black eggplant mixed with greasy tomatoes – no tahini, no lemon, no parsely, nothing matching the picture above. After a long hungry day of city adventures I ate it anyway with the store-bought leathery pita; however, very disappointed!
    I ordered a “cobination plate”, also pictured above and was told that they no longer offer it, but they would make it and figure out what to charge me. I know Gil can’t keep up and is not responsible for menu changes, but you’d think the owner would keep up with local reviews and update them with his new menu.
    The entrees arrived and had to be delivered to our table by the cook; drink refills were self-served (my S.O. had to get up and get them himself). The waiter/owner was surfing the net on his laptop the whole time we were there; he only stopped to pay attention to us once to tell us that he can’t please everyone with his menu.
    Here’s my review on the entrees: rice was pasty and bland, all the meat was tough and tasted like it had been re-warmed – definietely NOT freshly grilled (it had that leftover refrigerator taste), the salad was wilted and buried under the rice, the hummus tasted very plastick-y, and you already know what I think of the pita.

    I hate to be so negative – I wanted to love Anatolia and had been wanting to try it for a long time. All that being said, and nearly $50 shorter – I regret going there and will not go back.

  8. An enjoyable meal amongst friends 🙂 . My highlights of the meal was the spicy beef and Pistachio Baklava. My beef was well seasoned and seemed lean, but not dry or tough. I think on my next visit, I would try the lamb cuts. I am not an expert on the Turkish culture or food, so it is hard for me to judge the dishes, but it is pleasant to visit a new place and try new food. The staff was friendly, and I had prompt service; I would go again to try something new.

  9. I second Ryan’s comments, great joining my friends having Kebobs and sipping real Turkish Coffee I the great southwest! Not sure of the issues JohnL experienced but I didn’t have them nor seen any disapproving customers here. I realized after I ate to ask for Sumac, a delicious spice for rice and meat normally offered near Turkeys neighbor Iran. I would like to have more pita since I am a bread person. For the price, it’s a delicious meal; almost worth buying 2 meals ( ~ cost of Gil’s lunch). On a personal note, I prayfully wish the best for Ryan’s father health!

  10. I had a good lunch here today with Gil, Boomer, and Sr. Plata/Pluto/Pollo. This was my first visit, and I am looking forward to future meals here. The kebabs were moist and flavorful, and had the right amount of seasoning. The babaghannoug had entire garlic cloves in it, and it was really unique, and really good. Thanks again for the invite, Gil~

  11. My significant other and I tried the Anatolia Doner Kebab for lunch today and, after your review and rating, were really disappointed. We started with a Greek salad which was quite good, thou the pita bread that accompanied it, not so much. It was flat and on the greasy side. We also had the beef kebab and the spicy beef. The beef on both dishes was nicely spiced and tasted great but instead of being “fork-tender” all the beef was tough as an old boot. When I informed the server he did not charge us for one of the dishes. I’m not sure he understood that they were both so tough as to be almost inedible, thou that is what I told him. The hummus had a nice flavor but it was thin and almost watery.
    Thou they don’t do Turkish, we’ll stick with the San Pedro Market.

  12. My friend Tony Wruck and I enjoyed meeting you there for a wonderful lunch. Anyone who is tired of burgers and the same ole same-ole should expand their horizons and explore places like this. I imagined that this was as close to being in a kebab house in downtown Istanbul as it gets stateside. Such wonderful and fresh favors, and all the food was expertly prepared. I had the Adana Shish Kebab and can’t get that wonderful taste out of my head. I’ll be going back there real soon.

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