Welcome to our Resto Return series.The premise of Resto Return is quite basic: we return to the restaurants we’ve featured years ago and feature them again in the blog. In case you know, they changed over the years or months and they’re worth publishing again. Like Reina’s Applebee’s entry, they’ve quite made a renovation in their branch and we’ve been going back since. They also have made changes in their menu and introduced some new items once in a while. We commend them for it because waiting steaks and burgers are getting tiring nowadays. Anyway, there are also some restaurants that don’t come out with new items in their menu. They stick to what they’re known for and it still works after all these years. Yes, my sight is on one of Riyadh’s oldest Turkish restaurant, Assaraya.
Assaraya Turkish Restaurant is one of our go-to restaurants for shawarma back in the day (meaning 4-5 years ago). We featured Assaraya in the entry “Anatomy of a Shawarma (Part 2)” on March 11, 2009. Whoah, that long ago huh. The entry contained one of our favorite dishes, the Shawarma Plate, which is the content of the regular shawarma minus the wrapper. It is a plateful of shredded grilled chicken, fries, and garlic sauce. It was inexpensive yet it’s very filling. We’ve certainly have good days with Assaraya but we’ve grown and moved on to other restaurants in the city. We’ve also learnt not to be too picky in our shawarma and our cravings for it are now satisfied with any kind as long as there’s garlic mayo in it. We haven’t been to Assaraya for the longest time, especially after it underwent a renovation years ago. Before, it looked nothing like a Turkish Restaurant but after the works, it took on a great vibe that speaks of its famous dishes.
The facade of Assaraya Turkish Restaurant is now much more good-looking than before. The grandeur of Turkish design and architecture is now evident in their restaurant, especially outside. Gone are the green and yellow lights. In with the jewel tones of purple and pink. The inside too has changed with partitions covered by heavy curtains and each booth adorned with decors of Arabic accents. The one we went to had a window fixture that doesn’t open. One thing that remained unchanged though is Assaraya’s menu. Our favorites are still there and of course, we had to order them and relive the taste of our favorite shawarma.
But first, we ordered one of our most-loved dish… Hummus with butter. I remember the first time we had it; we couldn’t believe that hummus can get even better with butter. The butter is melted and poured in the middle of hummus. Roasted pine nuts are then generously placed in the butter. Oh my gahhhd… the best hummus ever! Assaraya gives free bread, and not just any other bread. Their khubz is long and warm and soft and chewy. Actually, when you’re feeling stingy but want your stomach to be filled with good food, this is the solution for you. Hummus with butter and their free khubz.
The hummus with butter arrived in a plain white plate that’s chipped. Makes me wonder if they’re still using their old plates from way back or this one just got chipped along the way.
Shawarma Plate aside, may I also suggest you try their Jumbo Shawarma? It’s the best SR 10 you’ll ever spend on food. It was SR 7 before (at least I think it was that… I hope my memory’s serving me right still). They use a really heavenly soft bread to cover a lightly-roasted grilled chicken with a few pieces of fries and a smothering of garlic sauce. The garlic sauce in a shawarma is never enough for me so I tend to order a side of garlic sauce too so I can dip all I want! A huge shawarma like this is good for sharing. It’s still the shawarma I remember from before.
Five years ago, that was already a meal for us. We ignored the other dishes in the menu and focus on these dishes. We alternate from shawarma or shawarma plate on some days before or also order a side dish of babaghanoush and we’re all good. This time, we ventured into their clay pot dishes and got the one where all the ingredients are familiar: Chicken with Mushroom and Cheese. Cheese. That’s an ingredient that always takes our fancy.
While the chicken are tender, I didn’t become a fan of this dish. It had spices that my tastebuds are still trying to adjust to, even after all these years in the Kingdom. It’s interesting though.
Assaraya is the place where I learned of the drink called “Saudi Champagne.” The drink, despite its name, is non-alcoholic. It’s a witty name but it was also banned from being used a few years back. So it’s just called “Saudi Juice” now. Where’s the fun in that? Haha!
I can say that Assaraya has improved on the look of their restaurant and their dishes remained the same. That’s a good thing eh? The popularity of this restaurant is still at its peak because it’s one of the main causes why Thalateen is traffic sometimes. Its parking lot cannot accommodate the cars of customers and some really really smart ones tend to double park not thinking that no matter how narrow Thalateen is, it’s still a street. And a busy street at that. Also, the waiters are quite busy and the restaurant is noisy during peak hours so you might want to ignore all of those for the love of shawarma.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia