Halal diner

Orange Oven

The chicken gyro offers peppery grilled meat, lightly toasted pita and a generous portion of lettuce and tomatoes.

The chicken gyro offers peppery grilled meat, lightly toasted pita and a generous portion of lettuce and tomatoes.

PHOTO by rebecca huval

Good for: Greasy-good, quick Mediterranean lunches served by a kind family
Notable dishes: Chicken gyro, samosas, fruit freezes
Mediterranean, Oak Park

Orange Oven

2790 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95817

(916) 533-7727

The cashier at Orange Oven is desperately trying to close shop so he and his family can pray. But it’s a Friday at 1 p.m., and the word is out about this goofy orange walk-up stand on the outskirts of Oak Park.

A couple walks up to the register. “I’m so sorry guys we’re closed—I feel so bad saying it,” the cashier says. The would-be patrons accept the news sadly, and without hesitation, he caves and places their order for a chicken gyro.

The family that runs Orange Oven is nice, and not in the way that you call everyone nice as an afterthought. They’re, like, remarkably nice. When the cashier finally draws a line and tells patrons the kitchen is closed, he offers them a free meal next time.

“Today we have to go to prayer—it’s almost like missing mass,” he says, “but we really appreciate you coming through and I don’t want to run anyone away. We’ll make sure it’s the best food you ever had.”

I’m not sure I can say Orange Oven serves the best food I’ve ever had, but its street food-style gyros and wraps taste greasy good in a way that health-conscious Mediterranean restaurants can’t touch. The small stand on a corner of Stockton Boulevard is overshadowed by UC Davis medical buildings. It’s a rare slice of bizarro Americana with its thorough commitment to one color—orange folding chairs, orange metal tables, orange roughly-200-square-foot edifice. Wire mesh shields the kitchen and walk-up counter ("to keep out the flies—not you,” the cashier assures me).

The building dates to 1946, when it opened as the site of Merlino’s Freeze. After the business went bankrupt, two former employees opened Original Orange Freeze Stand. Then it became Sacto Chicken Co., then Soleil Mexican American cuisine. Orange Oven took over in May.

In a hat tip to the building’s history, Orange Oven still serves fruit freezes—your choice of mango, pineapple, strawberry, lemon and orange layered with vanilla ice cream, sourced from Gunther’s. The menu is a mix of diner food you would imagine being served at an all-American walk-up counter, such as burgers and fries, mixed with a fusiony, Guy Fieri-style Mediterranean street food.

In the Taziki Tacos (three for $10), toasted pita swaddles lamb dripping with herbaceous marinade, charred to lock in that umami. The cubes of meat are sprinkled with diced tomatoes, chopped lettuce and—anomalously—shredded cheddar cheese, all tossed with cooling tzatziki. It’s a confusing and delicious mess.

Mine came with samosas on the side—normally four for $3, but a free add-on for me as an apology for a longer-than-average wait. The crunchy fried wrappers contain plush potatoes and peas with a brown-sugar sweetness.

The parantha gyro ($5) came with a deep-fried pita and more sprinklings of cheddar cheese, making me feel elated in the moment and artery-clogged in the aftermath. The more traditional chicken gyro ($6) offered peppery grilled meat, lightly toasted pita and a generous portion of lettuce and tomatoes.

After each meal, the kind kitchen asked from beyond the wire mesh, “Did you like your gyro?”

I always did.