Holy Land Mediterranean Restaurant

All my years at Berkeley, I’d heard about the city’s best falafels at Holy Land. I’m so pleased to have finally tried it today and say that it is not an exaggeration. Light, crispy patties of flavor are born out of this dank, randomly placed shop. They’re piled with fresh vegetables and drenched with tangy yogurt sauce, then swaddled in a hot, handmade pita. In Holy Land, you will call out Christ’s name.

The salad combo plate sustained me through two meals. With a mix of pureed and whole chickpeas and an ungodly amount of tahini, their hummus is reason enough to pay a visit. And show some love to the owner, a sweet old man.

 A falafel sandwich bursting with sauce, and nice condiments just in case you want even more flavor.

Food UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

Service UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

Ambiance UntitledUntitledUntitled

Value UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

A few other bites from the past month…
imageOsha Thai is the place for late-night food in the city.

imageFound a great papusa and tamale place next to work. The burritos are just okay.

imageA customized salad from the popular Mix’t Greens in Union Square did not impress.

It’s been a good month for food. My sponge cake recipe has been improving each week too, which I’ll post about soon!

Advertisements

A”Maoz”ing Falafel

This is a story of a hungry girl and the day she met the falafel of her dreams.

This self-serve falafel bar is located in what used to be Moolicious, a cereal bar and possibly the worst business venture ever. I would've preferred a more decorative interior that conveyed "healthy comfort food" rather than "Asian frozen dessert".

To start at the beginning we have to go deep in history, to 2009, when news spread that Maoz Vegetarian would be opening a franchise in her neighborhood. And this European chain wasn’t any old floozy – there are only a handful in America, all on the East Coast. Its introduction to California one month ago was a very special day indeed, and it just so happened to be one block away from UCB campus!

If you pay with card you can interact with this fancy screen in front of the cash register. Like I said, the sleek chrome and minimal decor doesn't really rev up my appetite, but I forgive them because 1. they are European 2. they play clubby European music 3. exploding falafel

4. Their unlimited salad bar is pristine, well-stocked, diverse, 90% vegan. 100% SEXY. Most notable were their roasted broccoli/cauliflower, marinated chickpeas, fennel salad, herbed carrots, and CILANTRO SAUCE.

C chose a meal deal with falafel, fresh juice, and sweet potato fries (~8). I tried both these and J's of the Belgian variety, and both were great. Not a single soggy fry. I suppose these look a little burnt but carcinogens are also known as tasty.

My Junior falafel (4.5) came with a small bed of lettuce and four flavorful patties of chickpea and parsley - crispy outside, tender inside, it held its own against the 'lafels at my former fave place, Bongo Burger. You best believe I went back to the salad bar twice to refill my pita (which was the thick fluffy kind instead of the dry ones with a layer of air in the middle!). Amazingly, none of the toppings were over-salted which meant they were delicious on their own instead of as a condiment.

I will probably never try this, but it makes for good conversation.

The story ends in satisfied tummies and a vow of loyalty. I am thinking about my limited time in Berkeley and already beginning to miss this place.  I want to share it with the world. Hit me up if interested, ’cause I’m ready for a repeat.

Food guacamole

Service UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

Value guacamole

Ambiance UntitledUntitledUntitled

Chick-O-Pea’s, please

After passing by the shiny new exterior of Chick-O-Pea’s three times, desperately peering through the windows like a stalker, I finally satisfied my lust for falafel action. This was its second day of business so I’d give them a while to work out the kinks.
The interior is sparse but bright and happy like a typical “healthy” restaurant. The cashiers/workers have the strangest vibe like they’re reading my soul – sidelong glances that last way longer than socially acceptable – but just pay quickly and move along. One lady who might’ve been an owner was really nice though, and offered us paper cones to sample each topping with. I thought the menu was quite cute (aka simple and short) but hopeful, as they also listed some items like burgers etc that were “coming soon”.
i don't understand why their salads and appetizers are refrigerated in to-go boxes. wasteful.

i don't understand why their salads and appetizers are refrigerated in to-go boxes. wasteful.

The chickpea salad (6) was quite heavy on the romaine but included tasty marinated beets and cucumbers and a garlicky/lemony/tahiniiii olive oil dressing that I enjoyed. The chickpeas were cooked and dressed perfectly and my favorite part of the salad, as I’d hoped, since not getting those right would’ve been pretty disgraceful.

Receive your plain falafel in a pita and head to the self-serve toppins bar, with nine different toppings ranging from asian pickled daikon to dill-y cucumbers to olives and cornichons to cauliflower (!) and three sauces. What could be missing; maybe some fries in an assortment of flavors with accompanying dips! Sounds failproof to me, since people/I love this self-serve trend almost more than we love crispy fried patties of mashed beans. It makes me feel powerful and now I don’t have to get my kicks from the ketchup dispenser at McDonald’s like I did as a lass.

organic falafel and saffron fries (with aioli, somewhere) thanks to my lovely hand model
organic falafel and saffron fries (with aioli, somewhere) thanks to my lovely hand model

 Once again Chick-O-Pea’s, you live up to your name. I loved everything about the falafel (7) – flavorful without being salty, perfectly fried, modestly-sized patties, soft and dense innards with parsley, onion and sesame seeds. The toppings bar also got my approval because falafel is quite the perfect canvas to work with, especially with all those fresh, marinated/pickled veggies to pile on.  All these lovely factors didn’t distract me from the sad state of the pita bread, though, which is frustrating since awesome pita is everywhere. The pita I make at home and the complimentary ones from places around here are always toasted, thick and doughy, but this was thin, dry, and perhaps saddest of all, split into half per order. I can’t believe I was having such delicious falafel that was wrapped in papery bread which tore and fell apart halfway through the meal. Bongo Burger uses the same pita but it’s exactly half the price for the same size and the falafel is equally awesome.

with spicy harissa fries

with spicy harissa fries

I couldn’t get excited about the fries (2.5) because they were too thin for me, and the saffron tasted stale (likely due to my ambivalence towards the flavor) and didn’t pair well with the flavorless aioli. The harissa was fairly spicy and tasted a lot like fries with curly-fry seasoning without the marvelous crunchy/curly factor. What amused me the most was that everything spicy on the menu and at the bar had “spicy” right after the name, and still, every time i so much as looked at the spicy options the employees would caution me once again like I was approaching a minefield. Well I don’t have a high tolerance for heat but their stuff was more mildly tingly than explosive. It will be a while before I’m back.

food UntitledUntitledUntitled

service UntitledUntitledUntitled

value UntitledUntitled

ambiance UntitledUntitledUntitled

Razan Organic Kitchen

fresh cilantro, jalepenos, onion and radish

fresh cilantro, jalepenos, onion and radish

I never walk down the street it’s on so I haven’t even heard about Razan until recently but good God, there are probably eight different things I’d like to try from this place. I’d say over half the options are vegetarian and they have a long list of burritos, mediterranean-style wraps, and combo plates. The place is so tiny you could swallow it with a sip of water but it adds to the cuteness – everything’s cright and framed with plants and healthy-looking which always entices me. There are two levels and we sat in the top, where, albeit clautrophobic, I could take pictures of the kitchen right underneath

upper level lets you smell the delicious food they're cooking

upper level lets you smell the delicious food they're cooking

On a tiny counter they were able to have a line of awesome salsas and veggies for burritos. I have no idea how it was kept so neat and clean the whole time.

 

four types of salsa. all spicy but great

four types of salsa. all spicy but great

I could’ve taken hours to decide if I didn’t have the good ol’ falafel as a standby. Plus nothing’s funner to say than falalalalfel. It’s definately one of those things I order all the time at a new restaurant as an immediate gauge of the establishment. It’s vegetarian, fried, and I’m always in the mood for it (mostly because of those first two characteristics).

so much going on in this wrap!

so much going on in this wrap!

Crikey, there’s a lot of tahini, hummus, tomato, lettuce and cucumber in there. Personally can’t get enough of those things and if I had made the wrap myself, it would’ve looked exactly like that. I really loved the hummus and yogurt sauce that covered tons of large cucumber chunks. But while it was perfect for me, I doubt most people share enough enthusiasm to not wonder where all the falafel goodness is? The thin layer of non-foliage at the bottom would be your answer. Far too little for the average diner, and at 7:95 it’s way more expensive than other falafel around Berkeley. (Bongo Burger’s still my favorite pick,  but that’s another post). The 50 cents extra they charged me for using a credit card added to the indignation. Notice the cilantro in the corner – can’t believe I used to hate the stuff and now I can barely taste it other than knowing it adds some extra awesome flavor to food. So yeah, Razan Kitch, your falafel might please me but it wouldn’t cut it with more demanding diners. I would go back to try some other dishes, especially the Lebanese wrap, spinach burrito, and shitake mushroom wrap (looked gorgeous). Everything’s made with wheat wraps!

the avocado portion of this dinner brought to you by nachos

the avocado portion of this dinner brought to you by nachos

This wouldn’t be a place I’d get nachos but one of my dining companions was craving them and they certainly look divine. I’m not saying I’d slather myself in guacamole but I am saying that if someone else was slathered in guacamole and I had the option of eating said delicacy, I would accept.

To go on a quick tangent, we went to the theater afterwards to see Dave Sedaris read from pieces he’s currently working on and since my professor got me the tickets, I had no idea I’d be in the front row, center. The seat to my left was empty the whole time too. Sedaris was obviously brilliant and hilarious and I could sit in front of him and watch him do his thing all day. His stories ranged from owls and taxidermy to Australia and fathers to diary entries to air-travel.

food UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

service UntitledUntitledUntitled

value UntitledUntitledUntitled

ambiance UntitledUntitledUntitled