Lunch for $10 or Less: Shapiro's Cafe

Lunch for $10 or Less: Shapiro's Cafe
Brisket sandwich from Shapiro's Cafe. (Sarah Kelber, Baltimore Sun)

Shapiro's Cafe was a little erratic when it opened. Its hours of operation seemed whimsical, and the staff sometimes acted surprised when customers walked in.

But the midtown spot has settled into a groove, and now Shapiro's feel like a permanent part of the landscape. For one thing, word got out about Shapiro's specialties, namely house-prepared pastrami that some folks thought tasted like Lombard Street's, and shawarma that impressed mavens who insist they know the real thing when they see it.

Its location has helped, too. When it opened in the spring of 2010, I wrote that Shapiro's was convenient to the University of Baltimore. That was before the university went on one of its buying sprees — now, Shapiro's is right in the middle of the campus. And Shapiro's works perfectly as a student stop. There are breakfast sandwiches in the morning. The regular menu is an even mix of deli items like hot dogs, knishes and Reubens, and Middle Eastern cuisine like grape leaves and spinach pie.

I have friends who get a little intense when they talk about Shapiro's pastrami, but it wasn't available when I stopped in on a recent afternoon. A new batch was still cooking in the oven, which is as good a reason I can think of for its not being available. Instead I got the roast brisket sandwich ($6.95) and a side of falafel ($2.95), which Shapiro's packs up with tahini sauce and small chopped salad of cucumbers and tomatoes.

I've had good food at Shapiro's — I can vouch for the shawarma — but I never find myself going crazy about it. I thought the brisket was OK, with some pretty marbling and real-cooked flavor. But I wish it had been more tender and sliced thicker.

Shapiro's falafel are good, too, but a little on the small side and missing the sunniness I associate with my favorite versions of this Mediterranean staple, croquettes made from spiced, ground chickpeas.

The owner, David Shapiro (no relation to Baltimore's supermarket Shapiros), has recently launched a food truck, Charm City Gourmet, that serves a more eclectic bistro-style menu — think New England lobster rolls.

Shapiro's Cafe

Where: 7 W. Preston St., Midtown-Belvedere

Contact: 443-220-0050,

Hours: Open Monday-Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Saturday for lunch and dinner.

Lunch entrees: $6.25-$7.25