Turkish Kebabs and Salads at Mangal Kebab
Your typical New York Turkish restaurant is a nice-ish affair: smartly dressed waiters and white tablecloths, coursed meals, [middling] wine lists. But there are plenty of mom and pop shops that offer food which is just as good if not better, sometimes for as little as half the price, depending on how much atmosphere you're willing to sacrifice. Mangal Kebab in Sunnyside is one of them.
I'd even call it a little divey, as much a harshly lit takeout joint as an eat-in kebab house. There's a printed menu if you want it, but the best way to order is to amble up to the showcase, pick out your salads and dips, and point to the raw kebabs you'd like them to grill.
Lamb Adana Kebab ($8 small, $12 large) may be your best bet, juicy lamb ground with bright, spicy chilies and grilled with a hint of char. Chicken Adana ($8 small, $12 large) is also nice, but the chicken's slight tendency towards dryness means the chili's heat comes through more abruptly. Both are served with buttery long grain rice that's more than just cursory starch.
You can order salads and spreads individually or in a mixed appetizer platter ($9 small, $15 large). The eggplant dips are the ones you really want, both a lush, olive oil- and tomato-infused Patlican Salatisi and the resoundingly smoky Babaganoush. The former is clean and surprisingly light; the latter boasts a creaminess that stands up well to the grill's smoke.
Mangal Kebab comes recommended by some for its pide, a flatbread topped with cheese, meat, and/or vegetables that you could call Turkish pizza. I find the dough too dense and flabby and the toppings too bland—which is to say it's no better or worse than virtually all pide in New York. Instead, direct your attention to the braised Lamb Shank ($13), a frequently recurring special. The fork-tender meat carries hints of gaminess in a lipsmacking sauce of tomato and the lamb's braising juices—a nice taste of luxury for such a casual setting.
This is a casual neighborhood spot, not destination eating. But what it gets right, it gets right well, with endearing food that keeps me coming back.