The biggest surprise of living in San Francisco this past decade has been the number of excellent Arab restaurants that have opened in the area. Starting out with the first Truly Mediterranean falafel parlor on 16th and Valencia, to the Old Jerusalem on Mission and 26th, my greater neighborhood now boasts some of the best Middle Eastern food in the United States. As good as anything I've had in Brooklyn or LA.
So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered the other great local Arab restaurant: San Bruno's Mideast Market, on El Camino Real. Run by a guy from Bethlehem, together with an exhaustively stocked store carrying everything from cans of Ahmad Ceylon tea and fresh pita, to Marcel Khalife CDs and Elite Turkish coffee, once a week, my entire office will head over at lunch and imbibe the best falafel I've ever had in the US.
Call it a sign of feeling old. Or perhaps surprise that, after feeling so dislocated for so many years, those aspects of Middle Eastern life that I miss the absolute most would somehow find me here, in the middle of a war. Speaking in Hebrew with the owner as I paid for my food, giggling, my coworkers stood outside the entrance, marveling at the fact that the awning above included the Spanish word for "butcher."
Granted, if you want something like shakshouka, you still have to drive down to Los Angeles to get it. But, if what you want are the basics - falafel, hummus, shashlik, baklava and, as this establishment serves up, ezme (along with a few other curiously Turkish side dishes) - you can't find any better than what local places like this make available. There's so many surpluses to it all, in context, it feels positively utopian.