1. Supreme Pizza & Donair
"You have to cater to your demographic," says Supreme's owner, Moe Akkad, an Ottawa native who calls Halifax's donair a national dish. "This whole place is mostly modelled from the east coast." That means he uses only Mr. Donair-certified meat and sauce—claiming others make their own mayo concoction—and Chris Brothers pepperoni. There's even a pizza here called the Halifax that features a donair sauce base, donair meat, Chris Bros pepperoni and more donair sauce. "The only thing you'll find odd out west is that there's lettuce on a lot of donairs," says Akkad, laughing. Also, donair sauce is more commonly known as sweet sauce. "There are a few variations, it became bastardized a bit. It's kind of a Subway donair industry." Supreme's claim to fame? Fresh out of the oven, house-made pita.
2. Jomaa's Pizza & Chicken
For 25 years Jomaa's has been serving up hot, stick-to-your-ribs meals like pizza, wings, pasta, subs and, of course, the donair. The usual lettuce, onion, tomato are all snuggled up in a pita with some beef (which comes in cone-form from Edmonton) plus your choice of sweet or sour-cream-based sauce. "I like mine with both," says the busy Jomaa's employee who answers the phone, who between rushing to get pizzas out of the oven reveals she's a Newfoundland transplant who's been working there for 24 years. "All of my love," is what makes the Jomaa's donair the best, she says. "At least that's what I tell everybody."
3. Cosmos Pizza & Donair
Ali Samfadi hasn't ever been to Halifax, but he knows the donair as a Greek speciality. "It's a unique sandwich," he says of the meal popular enough to make it into his pizza shop's name. How popular exactly? Cosmos' two Fort Mac locations go through over 1,000 kilograms of donair meat a month, shaved fresh from the iconic rotating cone and is shipped in, not from Halifax—supposed home of the donair—but from New Brunswick's Bonté Foods. Samfadi dresses his donairs up with the onion, tomatoes and lettuce, like his fellow Albertans, but it's the sauce that sweetens the meal. If you're passing on the tzatziki option you'll get a zippy version of the donair sauce we know and love, a mixture of garlic, evaporated milk, vinegar, sugar and...Miracle Whip. Judge if you like, but he says it's so good customers often order it to dip their pizza or wings in.
4. Hu's Pizza & Donairs
Hugh MacLennan is a good Cape Breton boy who went to Alberta 23 years ago for oil, "like everyone else," and ended up running his own pizza shop. Like Cosmos, he orders his meat from Bonté Foods, and on top of the standard ingredients, he'll put basically anything you ask for on a donair—cheese, pineapple, black olives, whatever tickles your tastebuds. But most importantly, MacLennan understands the science behind the perfect sauce. "Back home I found there were two distinct kinds of sweet sauce—some places were too sweet and some more garlicky," he says. "I try to make mine in the middle to satisfy as many as I can." The recipe? "Don't ask." But the numbers say he's got the sugar-to-garlic ratio dialed. "When I first started 22 years ago, I'd say it was 80 percent tzatziki," but now the sweet stuff's in the lead. "I actually put both sauces on mine," MacLennan says.
5. OJ's Steak & Pizza
Here, both beef and chicken donairs (which sounds a little bit like a shawarma) have been on the menu for an estimated 20 years, and either option comes wrapped up with lettuce, tomato and onion with a slathering of homemade sauce. Which sauce though? Like others, OJ's offers the choice of either homemade sweet sauce (a secret recipe locked up tight) and a sour cream-type sauce that's closer to a tzatziki. Regardless of how you sauce it, OJ's told us the donair here is a hit, but it's most popular with the east coasters in town.