Hidden Treasure Reveals All the Goodness of the Mediterranean
By Michael Baehr, Clairemont Chowhound
Throughout the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of amazing and passionate business owners, amazing cooks, and generally nice people in the oasis we call Clairemont. However, after my most recent experience, I can honestly say the bar for friendliness and customer service has been set at a new all-time high.
Mister Falafel is in a remote, hard-to-find area of Clairemont behind a gas station. I only stumbled upon it because I happened to see a small sign in the grass alongside the Clairemont Auto Care at the corner of Clairemont Mesa Blvd. and Genesee. Once I checked it out on Yelp, I realized that I’m not the only one to have discovered this hidden gem. In fact, it was selected as one of Yelp’s Top 100 places to eat in the U.S. for 2015.
Despite Yelp’s recent accolades, Mister Falafel is an unassuming, quaint mom-and-pop type establishment. There is ample parking just in front of the outdoor patio with large double doors that invite guests in. It was a cloudy day during my visit, but I could easily envision myself enjoying a relaxing meal on a summer night on this patio. Inside, the brightly painted restaurant seats approximately 18 customers and can sometimes get crowded. Open for nearly three years, Mister Falafel has enjoyed a silent and loyal following. Owner Milad and his wife Jacqueline (along with co-owner Marthe, Milad’s sister-in-law) are the proud chefs and greet every customer like family. As I learned firsthand, they literally go out of their way to ensure your experience is a positive one.
When I asked for a recommendation on what to order, Milad (now known exclusively as ‘Mister Falafel’ to me) said quite humbly, “Our falafels of course are good, and we make incredible shawarma, but really…everything is good here.” I opted for the beef shawarma sandwich ($7.99). “I want you to taste our falafel—it’s made fresh right here—so I’ll bring you a sample of that too,” Mister Falafel insisted, beaming with pride. This Chowhound started to drool… how could I resist?
The Beef shawarma sandwich arrived and did not disappoint. It was filled with a generous portion of marinated beef strips, zesty pickles, tomatoes and parsley bathed in a tangy yogurt sauce with Mediterranean spices and hints of cinnamon wrapped in a warm pita. The many flavors of this sandwich were surprisingly fresh and almost rejuvenating. Mister Falafel was kind enough to allow me to sample the fried falafel sandwich ($5.99) too. In case you didn’t know, falafel is a dish very common in the Middle East and consists of a seasoned mixture of crushed garbanzo beans, fava beans, onions, garlic and parsley. It is gently fried and served with a tangy tahini sauce. Falafel can be rolled into balls as a main dish, or fried in long rolls for sandwiches and wraps. My wrap contained a long piece of falafel served with pickle, radish, tomato and a few mint leaves for a flavorful and zingy punch. It was a large portion and I couldn’t finish it all (imagine that!). And, as a bonus, Jacqueline brought me a small side dish of homemade baba ghanouj ($2.75) served with seasoned and crispy-baked pita chips. Baba ghanouj is made from cooked eggplant, spices and olive oil. I’ve never been the biggest fan of eggplant, but this recipe uses grilled eggplant to bring out the charred flavor and made into a creamy sauce topped with olive oil and fresh spices. Prepared in this way, eggplant takes on a whole new flavor profile—I could have eaten this dish alone and been completely content.
As I learned during my visit, everything at Mister Falafel is made fresh to order and nearly everything is under $10. Menu items range from Burgers and combo plates to sandwiches, salads and Mediterranean sweets. Top it off with a hearty and smooth Turkish coffee and you’ll be set to power though the remainder of your day. Mister Falafel is open 11-8 Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Mondays.
4461 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92117