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Dang. Thought I was pioneering this place. It’s a kinda shrinking violet in the wedge of a strip mall you’d whizz past on your way to the cooler bits of Golden Hill. But jes' been to the dentist. Had some easy chew like gyro and salad on my mind, so here I am...

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...inside this cream-brown and maroon place with a big kid’s mural, looks like, of a middle eastern kabob place next to a church?

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Except right here at the counter I see a framed copy of Emma Goldmanlink text’s chowdown report last August.

Actually, it helps to scan what she says. Wow. The bit about their marinated lamb chunks ($7.99 with couscous and two sides, like falafel, salad, hummus) sounds scrumbo. But not today, tooth-truth day.

So now I’m casting my eyes up to the wall menu, thinking vegetarian. Plates are all $7.99 with two sides. Sandwiches, like the shawarma or gyro or kabob in pita bread are $4.99, salads are $5.99, and side plates on their own, like hummus, are $3.99.

The one I’m aiming for is that falafel plate.

“It’s vegetarian,” says Randa, the gal at the counter who looks like Cameron Diaz, and with that same infectious laugh.

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Fact is, I’ve never totally remembered what da heck falafel is, except it's all veggie. But Randa – she’s Chaldean. “Randa” means “Good” – says it’s basically deep-fried balls of chickpeas or fava beans, or both.

Hmm. Deep-fried, but vegetarian. So can’t be too bad for you. It comes with rice or couscous plus two sides. I ask for the hummus (always love that sesame taste) and tabouleh, because it looks green and it’s mainly parsley.

“To drink?”

I check the cooler cabinet. Usual suspects, but also drinkable yogurt. Hmm. “Karoun’s all-natural yogurt drink.” Arabic script along with English. Made in northern California, looks like. The pint bottle costs $2.29. I get it.

So I’m sitting down, looking at the mural, meaning to ask Randa who painted it, but getting caught up in the bittersweet middle-eastern music playing, when she arrives with my plate. Nice blue and white china.

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Tabouleh is greener than green.

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Cameron – uh, Randa – says the tabouleh’s extra healthy. “That’s couscous with the parsley, plus cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt. But I can’t tell you exactly. Chef’s secret,” she says, “just like the falafel.”

Have to puncture a falafel ball first. There are four of them, striped over with tahini sauce. Crumby mixture tastes good, specially if you dip it in the pot of tzatziki sauce they give you. And mix it with the herby tabouleh. And then you can rip off a piece of pita that comes with the meal too and dip it into the hummus.

And then - surprise! - a gulp of the yogurt drink. It's got that slightly sickly flavor of real, actual yogurts of days of yore. Heck I remember my mom forcing this down me when I was a kid ("Because it's good for you. Drink!"), till in the end I actually loved the stuff. Nothing like the sweetened gloop you get at Vons, or the smoothie palaces around town.

And here, it perfectly sets off all the already herby flavors of the falafel/tabouleh meal.

And filling? I tell you, by the time you get through this, you’re set for the night. Yes, taste-wise, it’s all a little tame if you’ve been living on nothing but Cholula and jalapeños recently. But sometimes it’s good to take a step back, and tell your buds to taste the actual nat'ral flavors of the plants and herbs the Good Lord gave us before we knew better.

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