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Oakland: Holy Land - The mint lemonade is magic

I'm rating Holy Land five stars just for the lemonade. This is the first item that will be added to my top ten tastes of 2010.

The title I credit to a yelp poster because that just nails it. The poster went on to say "I think it's possible to build a religion around the Holy Land lemonade"


It is made to order ... a beautiful mint-green frothy slushie with bits of pulp and mint. Excellent. Simply excellent.

I guess this is an Israli drink. In that case Israel wins as the country with the best lemonade. It is really called lemon nana. Nana is a specific variety of mint. Here's a recipe I found.

Since it is made to order, you can tell them how sweet you would like it.

Earlier in the day I had lunch at a new Kosher Israeli restaurant in Montclair called Amba.

I tried the mint lemonade there and it was pretty weak (thought the hummus is great)

Anyway, my real reason for visiting Holy Land was to try the malawach and compare it to the version I tried at Oakland Kosher Market yesterday

Malawach is a thick fried pancake, and it consists of lots of thin layers of puff pastry. It comes with crushed tomatoes.

In the Oakland Kosher Market discussion it was compared to Malabar paratha. After this second try, I still maintain it is a latke made with puff pastry rather than potatoes. It has that same oily quality about it.

Even though Holy Land makes their own malawach, I liked the Oakland Kosher Market version better though I think it is a frozen Saba version. This was flatter and not as flakey.

The crushed tomatoes were WAY better at Holy Land. Though they were winter tomatoes, they were almost red unlike the pale pink version at Oakland Kosher Market. To draw every bit of flavor out of those tomatoes, they were highly salted and mixed with parsley.

I've never been to Holy Land before. It is really, really tiny and even with a print out from Mapquest, I had trouble finding it.

It is worth seeking out just for that lemonade which I never would have thought of trying if it wasn't for my earlier visit to Amba.

Holy Land Restaurant
677 Rand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

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  1. I've been to the Holy Land in Berkeley and Love their mint lemonade!

    1. I adore the dolmas at Holy Land. They are super-lemony and so very good. Their vegetarian soups are always great. Matzo ball soup is always a hit, at least with the kids in my family.

      1. Another fan of their lemonade here. But you need to explore more of their menu. The felafel are outstanding, as is the shwarma. I find it hard not to order their humus, felafel, and schwarma combo when I go there.

        1. I discovered their lemonade about 6 years. It's very easy to make at home. My husband and I make it w/ limes too. Not quite as good but it's a great way to use up citrus fruit at home.

          1. Actually, this restaurant is a little treasure.

            My fave choice is their salad plate -- a selection of really yummy vegetable items that vary depending on the day -- but might include: beet salad, spicy carrot salad, humus .

            Their Yemenite hot sauce -- "zhug" -- is the best I've had outside of the Middle East. And the babaganoush is perfect.

            1. The lemonade usually includes some funny gelatinous seeds. Chia?

              Malawach / Malabar paratha dough (ajin) is quite similar to pâte feuilletée or phyllo. Latkes are made with grated potatoes, the only similarity is the oiliness.

              The zhug is awesome. I always ask for some if I don't order anything that comes with it.

              I thought the food was not as good as at the Berkeley branch, though consequently I haven't been to the Oakland branch in years so for all I know that's no longer the case.

              Holy Land Restaurant
              2965 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

              2 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I actually like the Berkeley branch better than the Oakland branch. The salads all seem a little fresher. All of my visits have been in the 3 past years though. The zhug is delicious at both.

                1. re: potato or yam

                  Ditto on the Berkeley branch. Hubby and I both ordered the Falafel plates last week and they were wonderful. Four hot crunchy Falafels with hummus and a nice fresh salad. The bread (pita) and herb/oil sauce were great accompaniments too. And yes, the lemonade was nice.

              2. Is this the place that's run by Koreans? I tried their falafel maybe a year ago and thought it was pretty good, but remember thinking it was on the expensive side (for takeout lunch anyway). I vaguely recall hearing downhill reports a while back...?

                How does the mint lemonade compare to Zaki's?

                8 Replies
                1. re: abstractpoet

                  I believe the owners are Israeli. The falafel sandwich is $7.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Hmm. Not all that expensive, then. But it is Korean people who are doing the cooking, working the counter, etc., right? At the Oakland location, anyway.

                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      Take this for what you will, but according to yelp, they are Korean Jews. Supposedly the sister runs the Berkeley location.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Yelp also says the owner is from Haifa. There's one Asian guy who works there, but the woman who seems like the owner looks Israeli and has the right accent.

                        In a nod to the New World traditions, they also make stuffed cabbage and matzoh ball soup. The former is great. I can't really judge the soup.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I chatted at length awhile ago with an older (non-Korean) man at the Berkeley location about why one location is Kosher (Oakland) and the other not (Berkeley) who said he was one of the owners.

                          The only Korean Jew comment I could find on Yelp (at either location) was a person saying their was a family of Korean Jews eating there at the same time as them, not running it :)


                          1. re: drewskiSF

                            Well, one person did say, and I quote, "So so tasties Mediteranean foods cooked by lovely Korean folks!"

                            Not that we're taking a random Yelp review as any kind of authoritative source. I had just heard a while ago that Koreans were running the place, but I have no idea if that's actually true.

                            1. re: abstractpoet

                              Yeah, the two guys working the Oakland location the last time I went were Asian. Didn't hear them talk (in non-English) though and I'm not one of those Asians who can pick out nationalities from faces very well.

                              1. re: abstractpoet

                                I know that some workers at the Berkeley location were from Tibet.

                    2. Try their Israeli combination salad sometime, rw. Garlicky cooked carrot chunks, great cubed beets slightly pickled and sometimes with chopped apples, pulpy sweet/sour tomatoes, cabbage, plus tabouli, so-so hummus and terrific babaganoush. You can add falafel balls for I think a dollar. That and a lemonade is my Berkeley Friday lunch date.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: heidipie

                        One last recommendation: if they are making shakshuka as a special, it's delicious. It's poached eggs cooked in a spicy tomatoey stew, with pita. I've even asked them to make this for me when it wasn't listed as a special. Mint lemonade on the side. A fine Sunday lunch in the Elmwood.

                      2. Had something good from the Oakland location today that was new for me: the spinach and potato sambusak, which I guess is a kind of turnover, though Holy Land's version looked almost like a small dosa or a big spring roll.

                        The spinach and potato filling was quite tasty (and a bit dosa-like), and they top the whole thing with hummus and the same crunchy, vinegary veggies (like a slaw, but with some diced cucumber too) they serve with their wraps -- plus a scoop of their good hot sauce if you ask for it. Really hit the spot, and I think at $4.75 it's one of the better deals on the menu.

                        Right at eleven (when they open), they had a platter of these that must have been fresh out of the fryer, so even after the 10-minute trek over to my office, the sambusak was still crispy and not overly soggy. If you aren't going to eat it right away, I'd ask if they could put the toppings on the side.

                        They have a garbanzo version too that's shaped more like a turnover or samosa.

                        I believe the woman who owns the place was away for a while, and so the two Asian guys (who are Tibetan, I learned) were basically running the Oakland shop by themselves ... but now she's back cooking and supervising every day, so I'd be curious to hear if there are any uphill reports.

                        1. Closed. Turning into Padi, serving "home-style Indonesian cuisine."

                          5 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              This is sad news for College Ave. Cafe Med is crowded, yet Holy Land -- which serves the real deal - closes. I will sorely miss their medley of salads and their zchug -- yemenite hot sauce. It's as good as the ones I've had in yemenite homes.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                No!!! This was really a favorite place for us.

                              2. And FYI, Oakland no longer has kosher supervision. This is a big loss for folks who only eat kosher meat - there are no places in the East Bay now, save Oakland Kosher Foods, which is more of a butcher shop than a restaurant.

                                This statement has appeared in several local Jewish publications:

                                After lengthy consideration, the ownership of Holy Land Restaurant in Oakland has decided to discontinue kosher supervision. Unfortunately, the need for a Jewish owner to be closed on Shabbat and Holidays impacted business too much and the owner felt that it was impossible to continue after so many years of effort trying to make this work. I would like to emphasize that she has acted honorably throughout; there were no breaches or specific kashrut concerns that led to this decision. However, please note that there will not be any kosher supervision whatsoever going forward on the meat, the other ingredients or the restaurant's processes and cooking.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: milklady

                                  I always thought the food at the non-kosher Berkeley branch was better, so that might actually be a plus for those of us who don't care.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Funny. I thought the opposite.

                                    The Berkeley food always seemed underseasoned. I had a super bland turkey pita a month ago.

                                  2. I got my usual, combination salad with falafels. I think the food's better than it used to be, if not quite as good as the old Berkeley location.

                                    Sign said they plan to start serving a "special Middle Eastern breakfast" on weekends.