Eat falafel at Zaki but make your own hummus
Over the years I've had some truly lousy falafel in San Antonio, most recently last spring when, craving the combination of deep-fried garbanzos and parsley rolled in a pita, like a Middle Eastern burrito or its Anglicized cousin, the ubiquitous "wrap," I ventured into a hole-in-the-wall Greek joint on the Far Northwest Side of town. There I was served two over-cooked, nugget-sized falafel patties atop a too-thick-to-roll pita, with a lone tomato wedge and lifeless taziki sauce on the side (in place of the sesame-seed based tahini sauce which they had run out of).
Since then, however, my luck has changed and I've had nothing but praise for the places I've visited that serve falafel `see "When in Rome," July 28-August 2, 2004`. The good fortune continues with the addition of Zaki, a newly opened Middle Eastern eatery hidden next to a pawnshop on Babcock just outside of Loop 410. The generic strip-mall exterior belies its welcoming, homey interior.
Zaki, incidentally, means delicious in Arabic, and in the case of their falafel sandwich the name certainly applies, as it is everything one could want in a falafel: several large and crispy - not crunchy - patties, doused with the requisite tahini sauce, accompanied with slices of tomatoes and pickle slivers, and rolled in an oversized pita. At $2.99 it's practically a steal. (Best to eat in, however, or hold the tahini sauce if you are planing on ordering take-out.)
Based on a friend's suggestion I haven't tried their hummus. Call it hearsay, but he feels their blend of garbanzos, tahini sauce, and lemon juice is bland and lifeless. Personally, I prefer mine with a strong kick of vampire-discouraging garlic; besides, hummus, like refried beans or pasta with marinara sauce, is so easy to make (see recipe) that I feel foolish ordering it when eating out.
Talal Hussein, one of the owners, says Zaki is going to revamp the menu within a month or two to incorporate more of their patrons' suggestions, including multiple requests for Greek and Mediterranean dishes. A Palestinian immigrant originally from Jordan, Hussein's been pleasantly surprised at the warm reception they've received from San Antonio's Middle Eastern community - and even more so at the number of customers they've had from other communities. Although conversation over a hearty meal can go a long way towards breaking down boundaries and promoting understanding, I'm not about to suggest that anti-Arab prejudice will lessen over plates of falafel and shawarma, as much as I wish it were the case. (Has the proliferation of Mexican restaurants lessened border violence or improved access to quality education for Raza?) Still, good food is good food is good food. Given its promising start, Zaki should have no difficulty living up to its name. •
To buy ingredients for this recipe, try Sahara Middle East Grocery, 5528 Evers. It carries fresh pitas, tahini sauce, and a variety of other Middle Eastern products.