Where do you go in Surrey for a late-night bite? That was the question when Craig and I were on the prowl for restaurants open late in Surrey. We decided to sink our teeth into a big fat juicy donair at the Iraqi-run A1 Coffee & Donair in Guildford. When we pulled up in the lot with our Surrey boys we spotted some potential rival crews lurking in the shadows around the establishment, but we put away our bear mace when we realized the only beef these pleasant older Middle Eastern gentlemen had was in their pitas.
A1 restaurant opens at the crack of dawn (6:30 AM) and stays that way until at least 2:00 AM, and while we only stuck around until eleven it stayed bustling throughout with regulars and takeout orders alike and a friendly community atmosphere. There is a real hole-in-the-wall vibe to A1 Donair, from the rats chasing each other around the bushes out front to the mix-and-match furniture inside, but you get the feeling that there is a lot of heart in this place.
Our first order of business was the Special Fries & Chicken ($13.25). All killer, no filler, and of course all halal, these fries came loaded with chicken shaved straight off the shawarma spit, smothered with tzatziki, peppered with paprika, and polished off with parsley. We all got our forks into this one and came to the consensus that it was good bang for the ol buckeroo given the amount of meat. Iraqi poutine? Na’am (yes), please!!
More chicken, more fries – the Donair Plate ($13.25) tweaks the portions but not the price to give you a tad less meat n’ potatoes but a whole lot more salad n’ sauce. Tabouleh, a tomato/cucumber/onion salad, some pickled veg and onion, lettuce, plus all the toppings you could ask for. The sauces worked so well on the fries I’m not sure if I’ll ever look at ketchup the same way again…
Desiree got a Donair & Rice ($14.25) which was the same as above but with turmeric rice as the carb portion. There did seem to be a tad more chicken than the Donair Plate hence the dollar difference I suppose. He washed it down with a Rani Pineapple Float ($2.50) a popular Middle Eastern fruit juice drink with a specific method for consuming: shake the can first to get the pineapple chunks in the bottom to float up, drink and chew as you go, then tap the bottom to get any remaining pineapple at the end. Fun stuff and something I haven’t seen around so give it a try; they usually have a couple of flavours to choose from.
I was tempted to try some of their Iraqi bread but I figured I’d put A1 to the test via a known classic – a Chicken Donair Pita ($8.50). I was in such awe with the amount and variety of toppings and sauces they managed to cram into this humble pita that I didn’t get a chance to snap any pics before they wrapped it up, so this’ll have to do!
Here’s what I counted as my pita was being stuffed: Chicken. More chicken. Even more chicken. Tzatziki. Garlic sauce. Paprika. Banana peppers. Pickles. Lettuce. Cucumber. Big chunks of tomato. More tzatziki. Hummus. Hot Sauce.
There was big dill and parsley flavour off the open with a spicy garlic finish, and the meat was tender and aromatic. Unfortunately the pita was no match for the copious amount of sauce and fell apart halfway through, so just grab a knife and fork if you go all-in on the toppings. No real complaints here though, they do the basics well and at a competitive price.
As far as I can tell the only commonality between donairs and donuts is the “do”, but A1 has the coffee covered ($1.75 for a small) so why not serve both? They have a decent selection of donuts but about half were sold out when we ordered. This Apple Fritter ($1.50) was halfway between fresh and stale, which is fair since they had been open for about 16 hours at that point. If you’re stopping in on your way home from the club I’m sure you won’t notice.
Their Jelly Donut ($1.50) was about the same quality and had a decent amount of filling throughout. They also had old-fashioned glazed, chocolate dip, maple cream, Boston cream, sour cream, and more. If you miss the old raisin fritter Dutchies that Tim Horton’s used to carry, A1 even has a version of those!
A1 Coffee brought us out a small square of Baklava ($1.50 for this size, $2.50 for larger pieces) to try for dessert (by this time I’d eaten two full dinners and one dessert already!), and even after all that came before the sight of the crisp yet moist golden baklava had me chomping at the bit to get it in my mouth. While many Surrey restaurants import their baklava from Montreal, A1 Coffee & Donair source a locally made version that I found more perfumey than most with a strong cardamom flavour and perhaps a hint of rose water. Noticeably different from the style we had at the Surrey Greek Festival.
We left A1 Coffee and Donair with the feeling that we’d discovered something cool and unique. A1 is basically Surrey’s answer to Duffin’s Donuts (tortas and fried chicken with your drunken donuts, anyone?), but with extra street cred. Pay them a visit for a morning coffee or a midnight donut, and tell us about your own cool discoveries in the comments below. Got a late-night Surrey dining recommendation? Hit us up with that too!