San Jose Middle Eastern food tour: Falafel's Drive In, Just Laziz & International Food Bazaar
Husband and I had some business to take care of in San Jose last Fri. so I had to mix in some food pleasure too. It started w/ me needing to get some Middle Eastern ingredients for the Home Cooking board's Cookbook of the Month, Arabesque. I found an old post from Ken Hoffman recommending International Food Bazaar and then decided to build our afternoon around that theme. As such, we started at the institution of Falafel's Drive In for lunch, meandered over to nearby Just Laziz (a bakery/eatery), and then ended our little tour at International Food Bazaar.
Here's a recap w/ some photos:
FALAFEL'S DRIVE IN
Photo of the sign on the left and the mainly outdoor eatery on the right:
Close up of the sign:
Like everyone says, the falafels are the bomb! I never knew that falafel could taste so good! They have the propensity to taste like overfried sawdust balls to me, but these were moist, herbacious and, dare I say, meaty. We both liked that zesty, slightly spicy red sauce. We got the special large falafel combo w/ banana shake ($7) and deemed the shake equally delicious. As touted here, it embodied refreshing banana essence in a styrofoam cup. I usually can't drink a whole shake, but this, I could easily.
We also wanted to try something not talked about anywhere and went w/ the kifta kabab (as it's spelled on their website) in a pita. The loosely formed mini beef patties were seasoned well, but not very exciting and of average quality beef. The beef was wetter than the falafel which caused the thin walls of pita to tear and made for messy eating. I cracked up when the guy made sure that I was willing to wait 5 min. for it like it would be a terrible hardship, demonstrating the brisk business that's typical at lunch.
Sitting outside on one of their picnic tables, we inhaled the food amongst a truly mixed crowd of lunch goers. Falafel brought everyone together. We got there around 11:30 so easily found a parking spot on the street in front of the Korean restaurant. There wasn't much of a line when we got there, but at some points it was 25 deep. Very efficient service. We must return.
Photo of falafel in pita spilling out:
Photo of it half eaten:
Photo of kabab in pita:
Photo of banana shake:
1880 W San Carlos St
Just due east of Falafel's, Just Laziz is an unassuming Lebanese bakery/cafe. There was one guy sitting at a table when we got there and another behind the counter. If we hadn't just come off of a full lunch from Falafel's, then I would have tried the pizza-like item that I've read about (can't remember the exact name). I proceeded to buy two bags of fresh pita (made at their baking facility), a buttermilk cookie, and a pistachio cookie w/ a mosaic of sesame seeds on one side. All this for something like $3.50. When I tried them later, I wasn't crazy about the cookies (a personal taste thing) but I thought the pita was pretty good. Next time we'll go to Just Laziz first and then maybe stop at Falafel's for "dessert."
INTERNATIONAL FOOD BAZAAR
2052 Curtner Ave
This store was AMAZING! Coming from ethnic food deprived Santa Cruz, I went crazy. It's not a huge space, but they pack their shelves w/ all kinds of goodies. It's heavily Middle Eastern, but you can find all sorts of international food products. I was impressed by the quality and variety of their goods, and they even carried Jana Valley butter that I've been wanting to try. I bought all kinds of things...Sabra hummus (per Ken's rec), Greek yogurt, Turkish coffee, bulk grains (bulgur, farina), fresh produce (Persian cucumbers, eggplant), spices (zaatar, sumac), rose water, orange blossom water, pomegranate molasses, the list goes on and on. Even though I went nuts on specialty items and filled up at least 6 plastic bags, I got out of there for $87. I'll have to try some of their meats next time...
Photo of Sabra hummus:
All in all, it was a really fun and delightful afternoon. Husband sometimes gets bored on these food missions but he relished in this particular outing. I had no idea about that area of San Jose, and the area around Falafel's and Just Laziz made me feel like I was in LA again. Will have to try the Lunch Box for Ethiopian, and anyone know if Korean Palace is any good? Even though I can't get any of this food in Santa Cruz, well, at least I can try to recreate it at home w/ my new ingredients and trek over the hill again for more.
I liked the Sabra hummus fine for a commercial product; mine didn't include pine nuts. Perhaps your nuts were rancid giving an off flavor ? I have bought TJ's hummus (the one labeled "Mediterranean"), but I would give the edge to the Sabra classic hummus. From what I recall, Sabra had a more dense, creamy texture and tasted of more pure chickpeas and tahini. I didn't find mine gummy at all and don't recall any weird stabilizers in the ingredient list. The TJ's one can be rather salty. Too bad you have a huge tub of Sabra when you don't like it!
Is that grocery store not the bomb? The owners are warm and friendly and they remember their regular customers. Remember to pick up the pita from Ross' bakery situated in the meat dept. Also highly recommended is the housemade kofta..ground beef and lamb with vegetables minced and ready for the grill. It will blow away the Falafel Drive In version.
The Israeli pickles are grand as is the Karun brand lebne. Also a wide range of Sadaf products line the shelves. I like their herb rice mix.
re: Ken Hoffman
Thanks for your recs, Ken, and for your archived posts that led me to this wonderful food emporium. The staff were very warm and helpful and kept the checkout line moving. I did pick up a bag of pita from the meat section, and interestingly, it was the exact same brand I got from Just Laziz. It doesn't read "Ross" on it, so is that a different one?
re: Carb Lover
The Ross brand has a small green paper tag inside the bag. It is the best pita around by far.
re: Ken Hoffman
re: Melanie Wong
The pita I had from Just Laziz was pretty good, but it didn't knock my socks off. Tasted fresh and not too dry but I found it a little bland (lacking salt?) and on the thin side. From your photo of Ross' that Ken linked, theirs looks more pillowy and bread-like. I will have to check it out next time I make it to the Bazaar.