Like the hamburger, the pizza, or the taco, a discussion of gyros (or shawarma or doner kebabs) can easily glide into the territory of "authenticity." There has been some scuttlebutt about this recently in regards to two hip chain outfits, one of which we liked, the other, not so much. We were not above jumping into the "authenticity" fray ourselves.
But when it comes to these foods, what does authentic actually mean?
Any of the above examples can range from the junkiest of junk to "artisanal," and fall anywhere in between. And any one of those iterations can be just as satisfying as the other, depending on your mindset. Sometimes a greasy drive-thru slider beats a $15 hand-ground cheffed-up double smash burger with important cheese.
Depending on where you are or who you ask, a "gyro" is interchangeable with a "shawarma" or a "doner kebab." All of the words reference the verb "to turn" in their respective languages (Greek, Arabic, Turkish) because the meats turn on a spit.
Around here, we've come to think of gyros as the pre-seasoned, pressed, and processed cone of meat that arrives shredded on your usually Greek-style pita, drenched in creamy tzatziki, tomato, onion, and lettuce. While it may not be "authentic," or something you'd encounter in Turkey or Greece or Iraq, it is undeniably delicious and has entered the repertoire of the American fast-food favorite sandwiches.
Certain restaurants use "shawarma" to refer to a somewhat different presentation, where entire slabs of house-marinated cuts of meat are stacked on top of each other to form a makeshift cone. And it is different.
Watch on varying days when Wally's Falafel and Hummus (both of which we cannot recommend enough) on the U of M campus puts out either lamb or chicken shawarma, but also gyros. The gyros are great. The shawarma are better.