Fairouz Cafe and Gallery (San Diego, CA)

Art filled walls surround diners in San Diego’s Fairouz Cafe & Gallery, by owner Ibrahim Al Nashashibi, and numerous vegan options fill the hot and cold trays of the all day Greek and Lebanese buffet (Lunch $12.99 / Dinner $15.99).  All clearly marked and generous, the buffet makes for an easy-to-dine-together meal for difficult groups—but for those not partial to food sitting out all day, there is table service as well.

And the table service is exquisite. Cafe level friendliness with handsomely plated portions of masterfully executed Mediterranean favorites. The Hummus (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99)—rich and creamy with nutty tahini, a splash of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil—is a lovely as can be found in San Diego. The Falafel (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99), golden and pale with more chickpea then herb, comes with marinated red cabbage and a knob of salad.


Large chunks of baked eggplant, mixed with tomatoes, parsley, and garlic, all marinated in lemon juice and olive oil make up the Mufasakh (Small $6.99 / Large $8.99). Generous and easy to share but still, I’d probably skip this dish in the future.

A Fatoosh Salad ($6.99) is a welcomed addition to any meal. A crisp pile of chopped romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, mint, and parsley with crisps of toasted pita and tossed with lemon juice and olive oil.


The Baba Ghanouj (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99) is top of the line. A luscious puree of smokey eggplant,  tahineh, lemon juice and garlic that is a must order.

Perhaps the best dish is the Dolmathes ($7.99). Brined grapeleaves rolled up with rice, chopped tomatoes, onions and parsley that taste like kisses of Mediterranean sea air in a San Diego strip mall. In fact, it may be worth getting the buffet just to gorge on this fat thumbs of joy.

Fairouz Cafe & Gallery
3166 Midway Dr
Ste 102
San Diego, CA 92110

fairouzcafeandgallery.com

Urban Garden (Los Angeles, CA)

I am not creature of habit. But after nearly 5 years working in NYC’s Murray Hill there were two things you could count on:

  1. Finding me at the Patrick Kavanagh Pub after work
  2. Eating mujadara from Kalustyan’s at least once a week

When I moved to Los Angeles, the crisp onion and smashed lentils of Mujadara exited my life. But two years later, thanks to an invite to try a new vegetarian/vegan friendly menu at Urban Garden, it’s back in my common rotation! But, while UG’s mujadara is decent, what sends me over the edge here the Garlic Sauce!

The garlic sauce doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t–just olive oil, garlic and salt–but I refused to believe it was vegan until it was confirmed by the chef. Whipped into a creamy white paste, the olive oil radiates with an obscene amount of sharp garlic. It tastes great on absolutely everything… including my bare finger.

Since the initial tasting, I now eat here all the time. The Fried Cauliflower is a favorite. Despite the occasionally over cooked batch, when the tender white flesh is seared with blacked caramelized tips, it’s perfect in a wrap or on with a platter—dipped in garlic sauce of course. The heavy smokiness of the Baba Ganoush is spot on, though it proved too much for one of my blander friends, this is by far my favorite of their dips options.

When I’m not in the mood to risk it with cauliflower, the organic chickpea and red quinoa Falafel has never failed. It always arrives with a thick, but not oily, shell holding moist innards… which again go perfectly with the garlic sauce. The Vegetable Kibbeh is a special indulgence. Kibbeh, a torpedo-shaped bulger dumpling, is normally filled with goat or beef or lamb or whatnot. At Urban Garden (and The Little Door) it’s not only vegetarian, but vegan friendly! A little sweet, full of flavor—and pine nuts—it’s a must try for any veg since it’s so hard to come by.

The Spicy Cilantro and Garlic Potatoes are not as spicy as they sound. The subtle sauce can get lost against the bold flavors of other choices, like the Kale, Quinoa & Beet Salad. Yes, I just called a salad bold. Dressed in a deliciously super tart dressing, this salad benefits from being paired with the subtle nature of the potatoes. At least until I douse those potatoes in the dreamy garlic sauce.

The only thing that drives me a crazy at Urban Garden is that platters max out at 3 choices. It’s more than enough food, but with so many options, I have the darnedest time limiting myself to just three.

Urban Garden
446 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
eaturbangarden.com