Shawarma Fresh is co-located with a pizza parlour at 1444 Yonge Street which is just south of St. Clair and Yonge. I've waited a while to review this place for a variety of reasons. The first is that it had been shut down for a week a while ago due to the sewer backing up in the basement. Public Health closed it for that reason. The closure had nothing to do with the restaurant and more to do with the owner of the building. I know I am mentioning the closure here but if you researched on the City of Toronto website, you may not get both sides of the story.
Another reason was that it is a five dollar sandwich. It is hard to review something that is such a great value that you have a hard time being objective. A friend had lamented about the lack of five dollar lunches or even any cheap lunches in the area. The best value that is not some fast food menu item starts at around ten dollars. Those lunches are often starchy containing an overload of pasta, rice or noodle and not so healthy.
I am here to praise the five dollar sandwich. In this city, there are many "ethnic" sandwich like items that fit the bill, whether it be hotdogs, hamburgers, banh mi or tacos. The middle eastern entry is the shawarma. Most come in around five dollars and consist of spit roasted chicken or beef in a pita with fresh vegetables, pickles (especially beets), and some sauces. You cannot expect free range animals and organic vegetables at these prices but you wouldn't figure there would be much variety.
Unlike the overabundance of Shopsy carts in the city, it turns out that many of these places vary. One of the noticeable differences is the texture of the meat. After being on the spit, some do nothing else but cut and stuff the meat into a flatbread. Many others want to ensure that they fully comply with Toronto regulations and reheat the meat in a variety of ways (flattop, microwave, oven and fry pan are common). Sometimes the meat is crusty or dry or inedible. Another difference is the pickles. I like pickled turnips but they can be a little flaccid. The tahini and the hummus can vary quite a bit.
To Shawarma Fresh's credit, the sandwich they serve is the right amount of meat to vegetable to bread. The sauces are garlicky and tangy and cut by the vinegar of the pickled turnip. There is a nice contrast of warm bread against the cool veggies and hot seasoned meat that make each bite different enough to provide variety but not so much as to be jarring. When the veggies such as tomatoes are not in season, it is easy enough to ignore them and add extra lettuce. As I mentioned before, if you are a true hardcore foodie, then you will have a hard time eating in a place like this but for a tired and hungry office working counting the pennies, this is the type of neighbourhood place that makes you happy.