For all the talk of California’s Mediterranean climate, the bounty of the regions around that particular sea still feels like a special treat — even, from time to time, exotic.
Where Merigan Sub Shop used to be comes SAJJ Mediterranean, a South Bay chain that began as a food truck before graduating to brick-and-mortar. There seems to be a close association with tech: Three of the four existing locations are in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Menlo Park — where the commissary kitchen is — and this one’s on Second Street in South Beach, and during the lunch rush, the sidewalk on Second Street is probably where you’ll be waiting.
Fast-casual being the way of all things, it’s a pretty toned-down menu — albeit halal, and antibiotic- and hormone-free. Ordering is pretty messy, though. The sign board has everything in categories like “what” (falafel, chicken shawarma, et cetera) and “in” (wrap, pita bread, rice bowl), but the way the eye moves over the text, it looks like it says “What in with kids.” The secondary fillings, of which there are many, aren’t necessarily spelled out, although some — turmeric rice, cauliflower, eggplant — are. (It’s clearly confusing for patrons, whose questions make a long line longer still. I feel bad for employees who have to answer the same queries over and over.)
Still, the “shawafel,” a combination of a shawarma and a falafel, is the way to go. It’s beautiful when you don’t say no to any anything and fill it with pickles, beets, chick peas, and the fragrance of cumin. It’s November, hardly peak produce time, but everything was fresh and vibrant. And, burying the meat at the bottom instead of layering it at the top also feels like you’re getting a solid meal; go slow and let the the crust of that falafel absorb what it can.
If you’re the type to nerd out while eating, the paper lining your tray is full of factoids about the medicinal properties of sumac and the weight of the world’s largest falafel ball. The name “SAJJ” reads like an acronym, but you’ll learn that it’s actually a thin griddle used for baking flatbread. You can also peruse the map of purveyors along one wall to see where, in our particular Mediterranean climate, everything comes from — neither of which you will learn while queuing up at a cart on Market Street.
SAJJ Mediterranean, 636 Second St., 415-658-7577 or sajjstreeteats.com