Abou Heidar: Heliopolis mood
At a time when only a few nice shawarma shops existed in Cairo, Abou Heidar was the uncontested destination for those living in and visiting Heliopolis. He even seriously challenged the once super-popular Shish Kabab Adel, next to the Summer Palace Cinema.
Today, with endless Shawarma shops around the city, some offering the high-quality Syrian variety, Abou Heidar still holds its own, and it still maintains its old outlet on Ibrahim El-Lakkani Street in the heart of Heliopolis.
The taste is unique; as one of its oldest workers explained: “It's all about the spices we use.”
The sandwiches still come with lots of parsley and in the Lebanese bread, which is not as nice as a couple of decades ago, but still good enough. They also come in sandwich buns and the regular soft half-loaf.
The now common garlic paste (toummiyah) comes with almost every shawarma sandwich, and in keeping with the shami (Levant) tradition, Abou Heidar is still offering its home-made fresh potato chips - crispy and inviting.
Along with the Shawrma, Abou Heidar does old-fashioned koufta Dawoud and chicken panee sandwiches.
So far as shawarma is concerned, meat rather than chicken is Abou Heidar's forte. But anyone seeking an alternative to shawarma should opt for their kobeiba: tasty and crispy and never too oily.
The traditional Egyptian sausage and veal-liver sandwiches are also available at Abou Heidar, and they are in high demand.
Anyone observing Coptic Lent or seeking to avoid meat in general will find Abou Heidar underwhelming unless they are willing to settle for a large bag of chips, an order of stuffed vine leaves (not always available), a green salad and a fresh juice.
Anas ElDemechky: Long queues - really
Of the many new sandwich-and-juice joints to open in Nozha Street in the heart of Heliopolis, Anas ElDemchky might easily be the most popular. One can't miss the long queues outside the small but efficiently run restaurant, giving the impression of a traffic jam near the corner of Triumph Square.
And legitimately so, because the quality of the food is really good - simple, clean and tasty.
Anything from the shawrma or shisk tawouk list is bound to be tasty and fresh, coming in sandwiches with fries, pickles and toummiyah on the side, or else as meals with rice or fries. Likewise with the lebnaha and zaatar, which are high quality.
There is plenty of variety here; whatever your diet or mood, you will probably find something at the Anas ElDemechky counter. Whether you're looking for small bites or big meals, an inexpensive lunch or a chance to splash out, you'll find it here.
Vegetarians and those observing Lent will find several options, including manakeesh zaatar (thyme rolls), hummus, fatoush, and even sayyami (Lent-customised) pizza. The lentil soup is also worth trying.
The prices are not too high and the service is fast and efficient, even for larger orders.
And if something should happen to go wrong (an admitted rarity), the manager is happy to put things right with a genuine smile that says: “We just hope that you like our food and will honour us with another visit.”
Casper & Gambini: The perfect packing
This restaurant chain, located in every key shopping/entertainment mall in town, may not strike one as the obvious place to grab a sandwich. But it's a great option - really. You can get a quick sandwich at the restaurant, along with a salad or a juice, or even a soup, dessert or coffee.
This is also the place for take-out orders, because their packing is so neat and efficient that your food doesn't end up falling all over the place when you try to unwrap it.
The sandwich menu is not very extensive but is designed to meet the expectations of very different tastes, although it certainly does not count at inexpensive.
A club sandwich may seem an uninspiring choice, but the version on offer from Casper & Gambini is tasty, wholesome and super-fresh.
Also unfailingly fresh (as unfailingly as it gets) is their smoked-salmon sandwich with multigrain baguette bread. Then there are the baguette sandwiches, including a haloumi sandwich and a variety of chicken options
One option for those observing Lent is the vegetarian special of baked potato, olives, thyme, lemon, sun-dried tomato and pepper in crisp brown baguette. This is offered either independently or in the "lunch box" list of sandwiches that come with either a salad or a soup. And there there is always the tomato-and-basil soup and the lemon quinoa salad.
Most Casper & Gambini regulars would agree that the carrot juice is well worth trying.
Dukes: Quick and simple
If you're looking for a quick, quality bite, Dukes is a good option.
It offers sandwiches that come ready packed in nice boxes of three sizes: small, medium and large. And they also have their regular sandwiches.
The range is limited to cold-cuts and cheese - but it's good enough if you just want a quick option. However, prices do tend to be on the high side. Among the options are blue cheese, goat cheese, smoked turkey and smoked salmon.
They make a good option for tea at a friend’s house, particularly in combination with the famous smoked-salmon cake. Indeed, the availability of cakes on the menu is one of the key attractions of Dukes.
With more than six branches across the city, Dukes is a great option for the quick sandwich run. However, those seeking to observe Lent may find it problematic, as they seem committed to rich fillings and butter.
Kilo Gambary: Crisp and tasty
This is the fast-food version of the typical small fish store, where you just pick up your food and go. That means good quality but no service as such.
Shrimps are the big thing here, served on pasta, in a sandwich, rolled in salty kounafa and, of course, on top of spicy onion rice.
However, there is also a small selection of fried fish fillets and fried calamari.
Kilo Gambry also makes its own spicy and crispy potato chips.
The service is exactly fast, but one must take into consideration the high demand, especially on weekends and holidays.
Clearly, this is not a place for vegans or those observing Lent.
Maison Thomas: Good old ways
Maison Thomas was once among a handful of places offering a nice croque monsieur or a delicious tuna sandwich, making it a favoured desination for those in search of a sandwich, whether cold or warm.
Today, with the endless flow of sandwich chains, Maison Thomas is still an option that many are not willing to forego, especially the residents of Zamalek and Heliopolis.
As with many of the best old-style places, Maison Thomas does not offer its clients an extravagant menu with endless combos. Rather, it is there for clients who are happy with an old-fashioned sandwich and old-fashioned service.
On the good old French baguette, diners can find the following options: the Royal (Egyptian caviar, boiled eggs, onions, butter and lemon); the Capri (mozzarella, anchovies, tomatoes slices, olives and butter); the Pigalle (emmental, butter, dijon, cornichons and pickles); as well as the more common roast beef, salami, smoked turkey, chicken and tuna.
On the hot side, there are, of course, the croque monsieur and croque madame. In addition, there's the Halawani toast (smoked turkey, emmental, cheese, tomato slices and butter) and the Panino beef (with smoked roast beef), along with burgers and hot dogs.
On the side, there are several options that suit the sayyami mood, such as french fries and the House Salad, with tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers and onions.
There are also the not-so-sayyami Nicoise or Greek salads and the Waldorf salad (green apple, celery, want an creamy mayonnaise).
The delivery service is one of the best around town. And best of all, when you place your order, they just take it down without too many unwanted suggestions.
Man’oushe Street: Appetizing and filling
Think of haloumi cheese, thyme and olive oil, baked and served with a portion of tomatoes and cucumber and bread. This is the kind of fare Manoushe Street would offer for breakfast -- or lunch if you prefer.
This is certainly one of the best sandwich places around the city when it comes to the Lebanese/Syrian/Palestinian specialty.
They have thyme rolls, haloumi and akawee cheese rolls, baked green falafel -- which comes with tahina on the side -- koufta and shish tawook and of course the Maneesh.
This is a haven for those observing lent; the diversity is considerable, and the taste is fresh.
The service is good and prices are mid-range.
Murphy’s Sandwiches: A little atypical
In one sense there is something very typical about what Muryphy’s has to offer: chicken, roast beef, smoked salmon and potatoes on the side.
But, there is something a little different about how Murphy’s put its sandwiches together and the way it offers it potato sides.
The sandwiches come in rolls, wraps and and buns.
The potatoes are fried -- with an option to have them with chilli and cheese -- or boiled and fried.
The sides include mozzarella sticks -- those are the best part really.
And for a change, you can always go for a hot dog.
Another option here is to mix and match - choose the bread, the filling or fillings, the sauce and the sides.
This part is very popular but it always ends at what Murphy’s does best: the fried items.
Murphy’s food is generally fresh and the prices are decent. The service is pleasant and the waiters are patient with those pursuing the make-your-own-sandwich option.
It's not a place for vegetarians/vegans or those observing lent.
Pomme de Pain: Going French
One thing is certain when you go to a French chain for your sandwich: you are likely to get a nice baguette.
Another thing is this: your sandwich is never Tuna or Grilled Chicken; it is rather Le Nicois (where tuna, boiled eggs and mayonnaise are hugged in a nice fresh baguette) or Le Villageious (where chicken and mayonnaise meet lettuce).
You are also likely to find a wide variety of cheeses and cold cuts.
Pomme de Pain also offers salads and soups on the side to make a perfectly filling meal.
Don't forget a latte, or coffee of your choice.
Whether you opt for the restaurant or to the ‘to-go’ branches, the service is efficient and the food is good.
It's a doable destination for those observing lent - but not the most rewarding on the list.
Shawarmaji: Juicy and crisp
There is something about the recipe of this Shawarma that makes it stand out - even if you have been to ten tasty Shawarma places around town, you'll still find that your Shawarmaji sandwich or meal has a distinct flavor.
It's going to be both juicy and crisp and not overloaded with toumaya (creamy garlic paste) that might wash out the actual taste of the shawarma.
Shawarmaji also makes room for the tahina sauce - much more than the toumaya in fact.
The bread is also softer than what you'll fnid at most other Shawarma places.
Sharamaji has both beef (served with tahina) and chicken (served with toumaya) shawarma and they come in combos with fries and a fizzy drink.
The prices are affordable for most; the service is good, but can be slow when you opt for the non-shawarma options like shish tawook
Thoe observing lent will have to wait for post-Easter lunch to head here.