Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Joy of Joys

I’ve been gone; I’m back now, if only brief & flittingly. I’ve got no real excuse for the non-posting, my only sort-of excuse being the visiting of family, the suddenly warm and breezy weather that makes me want to abandon all my formal tasks and just walk.

Though I wasn’t posting them, I gathered a lot of meals & stories these past few weeks, one of my favorites being a simple quinoa salad that I dressed up with a new vinaigrette. Besides the grain, the dish contained roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes, bathed in olive oil, s&p; salt-and-pepper pecans; golden raisins; fresh snap peas, cut into sections; roasted grape tomatoes (not yet burst); a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, s&p, dried tarragon, and fresh mint; and, finally, goat cheese, mixed in after the salad had cooled a bit.

Yes, I just spelled out the ingredients list for that salad, that’s how satisfying it was. I’m going to replicate it; I have just the sweet potato prepared.

My favorite story, though, is my first trip to The Jelly Donut. Since I first saw it, perched at 24th and South Van Ness, I’d longed to go. I put off visiting, in part out of fear that the donuts might not meet my expectations (what if they tasted like old grease?). Really, though, I enjoyed the longing: the anticipation of the day I’d cross the bootscuffed threshold and pause before the display case.

My history with donuts is a long one, more storied than you might assume. I’ve waxed nostalgic for Hans’ Bakery, the donut shop of my youth where you could get a glazed donut as large as a plate, its interior lighter than spun air. I’ve also mentioned my fond feelings for Swedough’s, whose burnt-orange decorating scheme and aging clientele make one feel as though they’ve fallen into a wormhole and landed in 1976. In both cases, I love these donut shops not simply for their wares (though DAMN, do I love donuts), but for the experience they provide: temporary relief from the exigencies of daily life.

My first Jelly Donut experience was wholly unexpected. Having eaten dinner and had a cocktail, Alex and I faced a long wait for the bus. Rather than sitting in the [relative] cold, A. suggested we get a donut. And, despite having just eaten, the lure of fried dough was irresistible: time and time again, I’d passed by that smudged plate glass, only to walk on past, but not that night. “OK,” I said, when I really meant, “Oh HELL yes!”

I knew immediately which donut I wanted: that one, the chocolate-covered behemoth pictured above. When in doubt, I opt for the largest-available, chocolate-frosted treat. (When not in doubt, I opt for the same thing.) My standby didn’t let me down. I undid the golden dough from the coils into which it had been fried, trying not to get chocolate all over my hands and face; mostly, I succeeded. Contrary to my initial prediction, the donut did not taste like old grease — in fact, it was airy and not-too-sweet, though the frosting may have given me insta-diabetes.

What I enjoyed most about the trip — indeed, what I enjoy about most donut jaunts — was occupying the dining room. Those well-wiped tables and serviceable chairs make me feel I could be just about anywhere. Donut places have about them a certain desolation, a silence that isn’t replicated in other establishments, even those with a similar price point and customer base. There’s a loneliness, a desire for a moment of peace and quiet; it’s reflected in the charred-coffee smell and the fluorescent lights’ flicker and the pleasant detachment of the woman running the till. It’s a mild, meditative disengagement from The Routine: a respite I’ll never give up, despite the barrage of bad news about refined sugars.

I don’t have a donut shop here (“my” shop). I love Bob’s, but it’s too far away to establish itself as a haunt. The Jelly Donut, though lacking some of Bob’s charm, has a solid product and a grittiness that resonates with me. It’s miles closer, too, and open late. I foresee more J.D. trips in the future: the late-night future, replete with unpopulated muni rides, wind-whipped scarves, adventure.

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Meditations on Dim Sum

Another too-short weekend! I’m mightily glad the evenings are lighter — all the better for post-dinner strolls, my dear — but I have Strong Negative Feelings about waking up when it’s dark out. Once again, daylight savings has made this unenviable condition a personal reality.

Back to the start, though, the start being Friday night. Hit up Southern Pacific Brewing Company for burgers (I got the Black and Blue, as last time), Brussels Sprouts, and beers — or Manhattans, for those not in a beer-drinking mood. My Manhattan was on the sweeter end of the continuum; not undrinkably sweet, but sweet enough. Lesson learned: stick with beer. The burger and fries — oh, the fries! — were totally solid. The fries, slender and golden, were better than solid. They were impermeably good.

These are homemade Micheladas, created/enjoyed on Saturday night. They're not related to our trip to Southern Pacific except that these are alcoholic drinks, and we consumed alcohol at S.P. #tenuousconnections.

Southern Pacific may feel warehousey (which, duh: it’s in an old warehouse) and be packed with startup bros, but it’s meeting a critical consumer need: the need for good, decently priced food & drinks. Try finding that on Valencia, and ye shall be lost.

Saturday’s adventures took us to the Richmond, that infrequently visited land o’ yore. We’d planned to bike from our houses* to the ocean, stopping on the way back for lunch (ambitious!). As it happens, hunger waylaid us. (Are you surprised? We were not surprised.) We stopped at Good Luck Dim Sum — Alex’s favorite dim-sum joint in the city — for sustenance.

Full Disclosure: When Alex suggested dim sum, I made the “Hmmmmm” noise I make when I’m thinking “HELL NO!” but want to appear more open-minded than I’m actually feeling. Those who know me know this noise. Alex responded, “Wait, do you not want to go because you’re not in the mood for dim sum, or because you’re afraid of it?”

The latter, sadly. Prior to this weekend, I’d had dim sum once — and that was only by accident! I’m skittish about eating foods I can’t identify, foods with gelatinous textures, or foods that may or may not contain shrimp. BUT, in the spirits of Progress/Open-Mindedness/Overcoming Personal Failings, I said, “I’m scared, but let’s do it.” And we did.

What I liked most about this meal was the element of choice. Choice — choosing what I want to eat, how I want that food prepared, the fork I select, where I sit, etc. etc. ad nauseam amen — is one of my favorite parts of cooking and eating, and the choices available at Good Luck were damn impressive. As we waited to order, I gazed into the display case, admiring the tender coconut shreds blanketing the desserts, the golden symmetry of the sesame balls.

Perhaps I should modify that statement: I enjoyed the coupling of choice and excessiveness. I knew when I placed my order that there was no way I’d be eating all that food, but it was uniquely gratifying to carry that orange plastic tray, heaped with food, from the counter to the table, other diners looking on in curiosity or aghastness. The woman behind me in line actually said, referring to Alex’s order, “Oh, I thought that was for the two of you.” WHAT?

“Nope,” I said. Pause. Another pause. Woman looked a little nervous. “We do like to have leftovers,” I finally said.

Alex, looking so dapper and about to dig in.

My favorite bite, to be sure, was the sesame ball. I’m gaga for sesame: seeds, oil, whatever form I can get. It’s difficult for me to write about the ball because I have no basis for comparison, but I’ll say this: the interior bean paste kicked up the depth of flavor in a way that pleased me. Murky red, one shade darker than a kidney bean’s coat, the paste tasted ruddy. It tasted like it looked. Beautiful in contrast to the ball’s light exterior.

On the other end of the enjoyment spectrum was the scallion dumpling, the loser in my Personal Food Judgment Zone. I love scallions, and I love dumplings, so what could go wrong? MANY THINGS. I’ll break it down nice & simple: first, the dumpling’s skin was ueber-gelatinous, a texture that greatly displeased me. Second: the dumpling’s interior had only two visible ingredients: chopped scallions and shrimp (which were not listed in the item description!). Third: Well, I don’t have a third. I’ll just restate that the dumpling contained shrimp.

Scallions rock, but shrimp do not. Sorry, seafood lovers, but shrimp (to me) look like outsized bugs. Someday, I will try one, but that day is going to take weeks — months? Years? — of preparation. As it was, I was unprepared for shrimp and did not eat more than a nibble of the dumpling’s skin, and that was good enough for me.

Man, writing this is making me crave a sesame ball.

Dim sum. It’s not a Garky Tradition yet, but it’s on its way.

In other exciting news unrelated to everything I’ve just mentioned, my mom and sis are heading to town tomorrow (cascading applause!). Yep, We Three Troublemakers will be reunited and ready to nosh. Mom and I are going to bake Sys a special birthday cake, but we’ll undoubtedly sneak out for some treats, too: likely Papalote (sys’ favorite salsa in the city), Boulange (mom loves their breakfastssssss), and, if I have anything to say about it, MISSION PIE. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had one of their scones, and I’m getting itchy for one.

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*Well, from one of our houses, but just imagine us starting from a point directly between our two houses, if that is easier. Which it isn’t, because maybe you don’t know where Alex and I live? To simplify: we set out from Alex’s house.

Best of the Midwest: Dinner at Dino’s

Before hittin’ the skies, I laid out a few eating-related goals for my visit to Minnesota. I knew at the outset that I wouldn’t meet all the goals — I was only home for a few days, and I can’t eat that much, despite my best efforts — but I’m pleased to report that I made it to Dino’s Gyros, home of the killer fries.

Here they are in all of their greasy glory.

My family grew to love Dino’s a solid decade ago, when Ali worked there part-time. (In fact, I credit Ali’s love of All Things Greek to this formative tyme in her lyfe.) Fairly standard as far as fast-casual places go, Dino’s offers sandwiches, salads, Pepsi soft drinks, and a few desserts, including the seemingly out-of-place French silk pie. My go-to order, established when I was a young lass of 16, is as follows:

  • One large soft drink, which is a mixture of Diet Coke (2/3) and Light Lemonade (1/3);
  • One Greek salad with chicken breast;
  • French fries, to be split with my dining companion.

Annnnnnnd, because I am the ultimate Creature of Habit, I did not deviate from my ordering pattern. Shown above is a close-up of my salad; the green pepper ring encircling the pepperoncini and the olive strikes me as beautiful — as in, if it could be preserved and dipped in silver, it would make a badass pendant. Not pictured is my large soft drink, but you all can use your imaginations.

How did my nostalgic meal stack up? Better than I expected, actually. The salad was basic: a bed of chopped romaine hearts topped with tomato slices, thin-sliced onions, a handful of kalamata olives (pitted, thankfully), cucumbers, chicken, feta, and a quartered, grilled pita. (Dressing — about 1/4 cup of it — came on the side.) To my great pleasure/surprise, these winter tomatoes didn’t totally suck; they were a little mealy, but not as mealy as they could have been. Olives were salllllllllllty and briny and delicious, and I ate every last one. Chicken was gorgeously browned and gristle-free. The romaine offered the only obstacle — about half of it was browning at the edges or otherwise wilty. A tad bit gross, but not gross enough to prevent me from chowing down.

Sys, stoked for our traditional meal.

 And how, you ask, were the fries? Quite tasty, thank you. Revision: our first order of fries was pretty bad — they’d clearly been re-fried* and sparkled with salt. Sis returned the basket and asked for unsalted fries, which the cook promptly provided. Hell yeah! The new fries (pictured blurrily above) were golden and slender and mercifully salt-free. Of course, we added our own salt and gobs of HFCS-rich ketchup, and the result was damn fine.

Yep, this trip to Dino’s was resoundingly successful. I ordered my traditional meal, which hasn’t changed a bit in the past decade, and took part in a good-ole-fashioned French-Fry Feeding Frenzy (F^4). No French silk pie this time around, but it’s on the to-eat list for my next Midwest trip.

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*Never be afraid to bring back re-fried fries, people! I worked for four years at my college’s diner, and I KNOW. Protip: ask for unsalted fries, and you’ll often have a fresh batch made just for you!

Brunch Drunk Love: A Reluctant Reintroduction to Groupon Dining

I’ve stopped buying Groupons because the featured deals have become, to be blunt, crappy. I have zero need for organic cloth diapers, pet Lasik, or salsa lessons in Burlingame; I am interested in getting a massage and having my teeth whitened, but not at any of the Groupon-endorsed spas. Daily deal emails have become the scourge of my inbox; my morbid curiosity is all that has prevented me from unsubscribing from every last site.

Last week, I broke my self-imposed daily deals ban and got a Groupon for Brunch Drunk Love (2389 Mission). In the moments before I clicked Purchase, I hesitated, wondering if I was making an airhead move; I clicked Purchase, anyway. Ostensibly, the deal seemed pretty sweet: $30 for a family-style brunch at a restaurant a few blocks from my house. Before buying, I checked out BDL’s menu, which looked totally legit. I’ve had very few awful dining experiences in the city, and I reasoned that this brunch (at the very worst) would be mediocre. As it happened, this prediction was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Per Groupon’s instructions, I made a reservation several days in advance of our brunch. Friday morning, the BDL hostess called to confirm this reservation. I mention this because, upon our arrival, Alex and I had to wait (and wait, and wait). We loitered for half an hour at the bar before we were seated. Overbooking happens frequently enough, but the hostess’ indifference — dare I say total disregard? — negatively impacted our impression. We might have been placated had we been offered a free drink or appetizer, but none such gesture was made. Nope, we were left to buy our own $9 Bloody Marys, which were pre-mixed (eeew) and tasted so strongly of liquid smoke(?) as to be nearly undrinkable.*

Once we were seated, we spent an additional half an hour waiting to have our order taken. This isn’t an exaggeration: Alex timed our wait. In fact, he had to flag a waiter and ask the dude to take our order. This waiter wasn’t sympathetic; he didn’t seem to find anything amiss with what went down. Once we’d ordered, our food came out rather quickly, albeit in a mega jumble. I’m not sure what kind of communication was going on between FOH/BOH workers, but we got our main dishes before our appetizers. We asked twice for our dessert.

The food ranked slightly higher than the service. Our Groupon scored us two appetizers, two main dishes (one griddle item and one selection from either legs + eggs + fins OR between the bun), a dessert, and two coffees. (You can see why I was drawn to this deal, yes?) We ordered:

  • Grilled biscuits with leek + thyme gravy & 4505 Meats maple sausage;
  • Frisée salad, with pancetta, croutons, poached egg, and whole grain mustard dressing;
  • Custard-battered french toast with stewed blackberries, ricotta, basil, and black pepper berry syrup;
  • Fried green tomato sammie: cornbread-battered fried green tomatoes w/ pimento cheese, fried egg, iceberg, housemade English muffin; and
  • Milk & cookies: selection of 3 cookies + milk

Alex and I agreed that the fried green tomato sandwich was the best overall dish; the cornbread batter was sweet and crispy to the max! The muffin had a texture unlike that of any English muffin I’ve ever tasted — it was as dense as soda bread, but not crumbly. I enjoyed the French toast — or, rather, the black pepper berry syrup, which, with the bright wisps of basil, cut the richness of the ricotta.

To my surprise, I was not so impressed with the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits themselves were solid — flaky and buttery, with artfully applied grill marks  — but the gravy was so thyme-heavy that it smothered all other flavors. One bite was like a Thanksgiving explosion. The cookies were forgettable; I had half of one, the flavor of which I couldn’t rightly discern. Whatever its type, it wasn’t striking enough to encourage my consumption of the other half.

I don’t believe in the wanton panning of restaurants; as much as I like to kvetch IRL, I acknowledge that rhetorically trashing a place is a cop-out, or can be. In the case of Brunch Drunk Love, my gripes are fully founded. We were on site a full hour before receiving food, and when the food came, it was so-so. The space was OK, but not great. The hostess was flat-out rude — so rude, in fact, that I’m still tempted to call the manager and relate our experience.

(Alex, making the best of this untenable brunch.)

San Francisco has too many great brunch places to allow for the existence of really shitty ones. Alex gives Brunch Drunk Love eight months, tops. I give it six. Maybe we can split the difference, agree on a seven-month predicted lifespan, and enjoy a well-made Bloody Mary at one of our established haunts.

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*Fact: Alex only drank half of his. I nearly finished mine, mostly because I was miffed about having spent $9 on the Worst Bloody Mary of My Life. Even V8 and Popov with a few shakes of Tabasco would have been better, srsly.

A clean, well-lit place

There’s much to report on the Garkyfront: so much that I’ll dive in and tell y’all what’s on my mind: I’m moving! Again! (I know, right — this gal’s not gathering any moss.) Come September, I’ll be relocating to the Mission, where I’ll revel in the abundance of taco stores and enjoy my new home’s natural light, bay windows, and hardwood floors. I don’t dislike the Sunset (in theory, anyhow), but it’s so freaking remote: my daily commute totals two to three hours, depending on the state of MUNI, and I budget at least an hour to get anywhere else. Tally that travel time, and you’ll realize that I’ve been spending much of my recent life on a train. That, coupled with my landlords’ tendency to wander into my living quarters, made me take action.

Friday morning, I put down a deposit and picked up my keys. I am so stoked to move in to my new place, but slightly less stoked about the prospect of boxing my books, trinkets, pairs of socks, &c. Ah, well: it’s a process that can be made more pleasant with music and PBR, right? (Aside: if any of you wants to help me pack, I’ll make you so much pizza and pour you so much prosecco. Or something equivalent.)

Picking up my keys was just the start of this past weekend. Friday night, I met Aurora for dinner at Cha Ya, where we enjoyed a serene, multi-course meal. As you know, my median dinner time has crept farther and farther past 6:00, edging into an arguably European time slot. Friday, it was back to square one: A. and I were the first diners to arrive. Our early arrival garnered us a prime table, uninterrupted service, and funny looks from passersby (who must have wondered what two twentysomethings were thinking, eating dinner at 5:00).

We began our meal with cocktails, natch — barley spirits mixed with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. (Note: How did we know the juice was fresh? We squeezed it ourselves. At the table.) Similar to vodka, this spirit was mostly tasteless; I was pleased to have fresh-squeezed juice (one of my favorite small luxuries). Aurora and I shared miso and the daintiest cucumber salad, garnished with toasted soy nuts and golden raisins and dressed in a mild vinaigrette. Next, we split a tofu custard topped with veggies: sugar snap peas, squash (undercooked, sadly), carrot coins cut to resemble blossoms. I’m sad to say that, texturally relevant though this dish was, it was bland. Cream-of-wheat bland. The veggies tasted like their natural selves; I dumped a bunch of soy sauce on my portion to spruce up the flavor, but this only made me feel as though I were eating cream of wheat with soy sauce.

The highlight of the meal was the fried eggplant stuffed with tofu and veg; ever-so-faintly sweet, the eggplant had the consistency of French toast* — a meltier, more-fried French toast — and assumed the mild ginger flavor of the sauce it bathed in. I’m partial to stuffed things — the uncovery process makes any meal more novel — and the entrée fit nicely with my Learning to Love Tofu Initiative.

After dinner, we jaunted to the Art Murmur, which was nifty and vibrant but maybe a little too scene for my evening: I’d promised myself a quiet night, but one tallboy, one vegan cupcake, and 1.5 dive bar Mai Tais later, I realized I’d made bad on my promise.

Saturday, I kicked it with Sabina, ladystyle: we spent some quality time on the couch watching only the finest Bravo had to offer. We quite possibly also watched one of the sequels to “Bring it On,” which was quite possibly featured on ABC Family. No comment there.

By Saturday evening, I wanted to swaddle myself in my comforter and sleep the deepest, most dreamless sleep, but I had other plans — I was meeting Alex to cook dinner. We spent a goodly amount of time paging through cookbooks, admiring rare chops and crusty loaves and Nigella’s sultry poses, and we decided, in the end, to visit Bi-Rite and get whatever struck our fancy.**

Aside: Oh, my god: as much as I love general grocery shopping, I love shopping at Bi-Rite the best. I’m drawn in by the jewel-bright berries, the stone fruits whittled into sample slices, the orderly rows of cupcakes and tarts. Such order! Such prosperity. As I stood considering the bins of olives, a salesdude wandered over and gave me samples of a few varieties; little did he know that I’d already decided to get a tub of Cerignolas.Roughly an hour later, we began to cook, but not in any old way. No, no: the preparation of this dinner was just as leisurely as the preceding grocery trip. Alex put on music; I broke the bundled Romaine hearts into leaves and washed them in lukewarm water. We paused to snack on olives, take a sip of whiskey, flip the record. A few minutes passed, then an hour; the vinaigrette was ready, the bread warmed in the oven, and the steaks hissed in their pan. I set the table with one green plate and one yellow. We were hungry, yes, but not so hungry to overlook the luxury of a languorously prepared meal.

If I had to choose (which I don’t, seeing as I’m the one recounting this experience, but I’ll choose, anyway), my favorite part of the meal was bread topped with manchego and membrillo. I’d never had quince paste, and I smitten with its texture (jam-aspic hybrid?), sweetness, and bloody hue; paired with the crumbly cheese, it was divine. All night, I thought about this combination, the satisfaction I took in its simplicity. Sunday, after a glorious brunch and my tour, I bought a wedge of twelve-month-aged manchego and a tub of membrillo and set to work making my newest favorite comfort food.

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*Which I’ve been craving something fierce lately, god help me. I never used to like French toast, but look at me now! #seachange

**This isn’t entirely true: we did decide to make a variation of Jamie Oliver’s Insalata di Strata, but our protein/beverage/dessert choices were guided by impulse alone.

I Like Ike’s

If you live in the city, you likely have an opinion about Ike’s Place, the little sandwich shop that could. Ike’s has a massive following — so massive, in fact, that it was forced out of its former location because neighbors complained about the shop’s disruptiveness. (You can read the full story here.) Relocated, the shop is once again fully operational and just as popular as ever.

Confession: I’m an Ike’s novice. Prior to the shop’s shutdown, I’d only had one sandwich, and I don’t even remember which sandwich I got. (THE HORROR.) The situation followed thusly: I was at a pal’s house, drinkin’ some wine, listening to some tunes, and my pal’s bf got us all sammies from Ike’s. I had turkey, I think, but by the time I got around to eating, I was famished, and any evidence of sandwich artistry was lost on me. Bummer.

This weekend, I had the chance to (re)introduce myself to Ike’s craveworthy fare. Friday, Aurora and I met up for a late lunch in Dolores Park. I’d leisurely frittered away the morning, eating some pie, listening to some Joan Jett, sipping coffee in the comfort of my bed; after some consideration, I headed to the Castro for a real meal.

I can confirm that the lines at Ike’s are just as bad as their reputation. I arrived at quarter of two and waited almost 20 minutes to place my order. Absurd, right? I won’t argue: the wait time bordered on ridiculous. BUT, glass half full, I had plenty of time to study the menu, whose funnily named creations are heavy on the halal chicken, light on salami. I’ve been in a holiday sort of mood, so I chose the Going Home For Thanksgiving: turkey, cranberry sauce, havarti, sriacha, and dirty sauce, all on a Dutch Crunch roll. (I opted for lettuce & tomato, too. Gotta get those greens in somehow, ja?) My sammie came with a free bag of chips (jalapeno chips, mofos!) and a caramel apple pop (which I dared not eat, lest it strip my teeth of their enamel).

Ike’s doesn’t have a dining room, but no matter: Dolores Park is a few blocks away, and Aurora and I turned our lunch into a Picnic Lunch of Awesomeness. Using our paper bags as plates and our napkins as napkins, we chowed. Oh, how we chowed. Ike’s subs are high-commitment: they’re huge, they’re messy, and they won’t last until the next meal (due to Intense Bread Soakage). I made it through half of the Thanksgiving, discarding the remainder.

Oh, but if I could have finished the other half. Dutch Crunch is my sandwich bread of choice, and Ike’s variety — chewy inside, crusty atop — didn’t disappoint. The sriacha/cranberry sauce combo is ingenious; alone, each element would have been boooooring; together, the sauces merged into a spicy-sweet uebercondiment. The havarti? Didn’t notice it.

My sandwich experience in San Francisco is fairly limited. I get Freddie’s from time to time, and stop off at Subway more often than I’d care to admit. (Yes: I realize that Subway’s sandwiches are more representational than nutritional. Touche!) Realize, then, when I say that Ike’s offers some of the finest sandwiches around, that I’m operating within an extremely limited context. Independent of the sandwiches I’ve eaten here, Ike’s is solid. Among the sandwiches I’ve had, Ike’s is solid. It’s a solid, standard, messy sub. JUST DO IT.

Neighborhood Exploration: Hayes & Kebab

Monday, Ali made falafel. Nothing exotic — it from a mix, baked in the oven, and served in a split pita. I’ve had this falafel before; it will satisfy my craving in a pinch, but doesn’t stack up to the genuine article.* Oven-baked is healthier — I get it — but health value doesn’t do much for a food whose main selling point is its luscious, fried crispness.

For a solid day, I craved falafel. I thought of Amanouz, the Mediterranean-inspired cafe on Main Street Northampton, where I’d get strong tea, couscous with lamb, Greek salads. Falafel, of course. Amanouz had a dining room scarcely wider than the tables it housed; one had to walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom, apologizing to each of the cooks en route. It was homey; it was cheap. I miss that place.

Hayes & Kebab (near Hayes and Laguna) (re-)opened a few months ago. The site was under construction for like, a year, and every time I took the 21 past it, I thought, “Huh, I wonder if that place is ever going to open.” By the end of my bus ride, I’d forgotten H&K, my thotz diverted to more pressing matters.

One day, Hayes and Kebab was open. The dining room was packed with peeps drinking pints, peeps eating pita — peeps! “Hey,” I thought, “I want some pita! I want a pint!” I resolved to try H&K as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Lo and behold, opportunity knocked on Tuesday night. Hook, not a fan of Mediterranean cuisine but a fan of Trying New Things, joined me on this jaunt. We arrived at prime dinner time (6:30), but the restaurant was mostly empty. No problem there — we snagged a prime seat just beside the front door.

Before I’d even arrived, I’d read the menu, weighed my options, and decided what to get. (Spoiler alert: I got falafel, but you knew that at the outset.) Not just any falafel, mind you, but the King Falafel. How does that differ from the common variety? In addition to the standard fixins’, the King includes cubed feta and grilled eggplant. Helllllllll yeah — I will never turn down the option of feta. Test me.

True to form, Hook ordered lamb: kebabs served with rice pilaf, barley pilaf, green salad, and bread. Good thing he was hongry. Oh, and we got our pints — Blue Moon for me, Coors(?) for H. We sipped as we waited for our food — rather a long wait, given the empty dining room, but not an egregiously bad one. We warmed in the evening sun, enjoying the stillness of our surroundings. That’s one thing H&K had going for it this Tuesday: a relatively peaceful seating area. Those are hard to come by in this city, and they don’t go unappreciated.

My falafel was much as I expected: crrrrrrrrrrrisp, shiny with grease, cooled by a slather of hummus, swaddled in shredded lettuce. Served in lavash, the sandwich had been grilled; the edges of the bread were cracker-crisp, and I swooned. This sandwich was perfect. Bonus: I saved the other half for the next day’s lunch, using the fillings to top a bed of spinach. Falafel salad is a close second to a proper wrap.

Hook’s food was not as impressive. The lamb was a tad overcooked (though, as Hook noted, you might not want to eat rare lamb at a fast-casual place), the bread was chewy, and the salad just was. Most surprisingly, the pilafs were both bland — like cafeteria food with all sodium omitted. I couldn’t wrap my head around why both sides were so tasteless. Even the rice I make at home — unseasoned and unadorned — is more flavorful! Sad to say, we suffered a #majorsidedishfail. Sorry, H&K: your sides don’t cut the mustard.

For now, I’ve found my falafel joint. Hayes & Kebab is close, cheap, and well-lit. BUT, don’t think I’m settling down: oh, no. No no no. My falafel hunt is far from over, friends. H&K’s wrap was good — pretty good, even — but this city is bound to have better. And, as my 3rd-grade gym teacher always said,** “Good, better, best/never let it rest/until your good becomes your better/and your better, your best.” DAMN STRAIGHT!

Holy grail of falafel, you will be mine.

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*From-a-mix falafel satisfies a falafel craving the same way that Cool Whip between chocolate graham crackers sates an ice cream sandwich craving.

**Albeit about non-food pursuits, but who’s looking at context?