iving on the cusp of downtown, I don’t have much reason to hop on the asphalt and combust myself into the intimidating maze that is our suburban strip-mall matrix. Virtually all my needs are met here in the core: A series of linear parks to satisfy my explorer persona; an early morning songstress spouting Popeye theme music at stage volume; plenty of eats for my residual hunter-gatherer needs; and cats (feral and otherwise) for purposes I have yet to discover.
But about every few months I helplessly angle my carbon-creator out I-10 for an infusion of falafel: balls so good, I’m convinced they’ve been drawn from a secret desert vault of perfectly fried fava.
While Pasha Mediterranean Grill has gotten its share of culinary props from San Anto diners, local vegetarians know it for the generous no-meat plates they dish. My most recent treks to Pasha have me equally convinced of the moist falafel’s delectability and my own viral security. That is, I am not going to catch swine flu here. Even with the lunch rush in full aromatic flower, the restroom smells strongly of iodine cleanser (you RNs know what I’m talking about here), and a gorilla-sized bucket of anti-bacterial hand cleanser greets you at the order counter.
The crowd forces me and my massive vegetarian plate (with complimentary disc of flatbread) out onto the patio, where a stand of palms attempts to shield me from Wurzbach Road’s automotive din. Though the noise is slightly dampened by the greenery, the saccharine fumes still sweeten the air around me. Cowbirds are clearly casing my table, which is tucked beneath a large red umbrella decorated in an ice-cream motif.
I found the restaurant buzzing on a recent dinner stop, but this lunch rush was almost too frenetic. Despite the activity, the tomato-rich dolmas in sturdy grape leaves and exquisite falafel redirect my attention inward.
Veggie items include standards like baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and falafel, but also less frequently seen khiyar cucumber salad and signature potatoes. Every item that has hit my plate has been fresh and reasonably flavorful. Perhaps my only complaint is that the garbanzo in the hummus is whipped into a cream equal to the tahini, lacking texture and that extra dash of paprika or cumin that I’ve grown used to elsewhere. You have to launch into the giant flatbread, offered with a well-spiced olive oil complete with toasted sesame seeds, before it hardens and dries.
All told, I’m able to crunch through two ideal balls, dolmas, rice, hummus, and a Greek salad for about $12, including a drink. Make proper use of that flatbread and you’ll walk out with half your meal saved (in styrofoam: boo) for another day.
Added bonus: Ali Baba International Food Market is just across the parking lot. If you haven’t had your fill of atmosphere or need that meal-concluding savory, pop in for some roasted gram or Persian red seed and apricots. •