Watching a family share a meal provides a great insight into the dynamics of their relationship, and if you enjoy both statistics and keeping up with the times, it’d be a safe bet to assume you know that the American meal-sharing landscape is a tarnished one. Fortunately for you and this review, I’ve found the exception, and what will hopefully become the new rule, in a rather unexpected place that stands in utter defiance to the devolution that has occurred in the way Americans share their meals with one another. That place is The Falafel Hut, in Santa Cruz, California.
The Falafel Hut resides in a charming yet unassuming shop located right across from the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and the even more well-known Pacific Ocean. On vacation with my friends and having just blown all my money at the Boardwalk arcade with only a stuffed toy shark to show for it, we were looking for a good meal at an affordable price. Much like dogs, we were drawn into the Falafel Hut by way of the pleasant aromas and a brightly colored building. We were greeted by a beautiful young lady at the register and her equally lovely mother, and after some superb homemade hummus and warm pitas, we learned their story.
Family owned and operated for over 28 years, the Falafel Hut is a testament to the integrity of Lebanese cuisine and the way they convey their rich Mediterranean heritage. To quote the omnipotent Olive Garden, “When you’re here, you’re family!” Speaking with this woman; seeing her husband running the show in the kitchen, her two daughters providing customer service, and herself the master puppeteer, I couldn’t help but sense that by eating a meal there, I wasn’t insomuch as eating a meal there, but rather eating a meal there with them. We were sharing a sacred experience, breaking bread together if you will, or better yet, breaking falafel together. And lucky for us, it was delicious.
I ordered both a falafel sandwich and the chicken shawarma, which must be noted, cost under $12. Their falafel, as they proudly told me, was composed of a myriad of spices and 100% chick peas, with no added fillers, and as I was able to watch them being made by hand in the kitchen, I can certainly attest to that. I must also recommend asking for it Lebanese style, which will not only bring a smile to the couple’s faces, but will also provide the extraordinarily fresh taste of mint to the falafel sandwich, a welcomed addition. The chicken shawarma was marinated in lemon, garlic, oregano, and salt and grilled to perfection, with the fresh produce and drizzled tahini providing a friendship that could last a lifetime.
As I sat and observed the family at work I noticed something fascinating. Many of the people who came in were their friends, both new and old. While nothing is unusual about that, it occurred to me that I had already become their friend, their family, without even comprehending it. Sharing food and a friendly conversation is a very gratifying experience, and solidifies the bonds people have. Ever wonder why dinner dates are so common? Besides fulfilling the basic, animalistic needs of hunger, they provide an immediate, personal setting in which to bond with another person. Something we’ve managed to degrade down to simple science actually constitutes an important and overlooked facet of our everyday lives, togetherness. Whether or not you’re ready to sit down and enjoy a meal with your family is irrelevant. Let’s take this one step at a time; go enjoy a meal with your new family, the Abi Najem’s at the Falafel Hut, and let them know I’ll be sure to stop by next time I stumble into town.
The Falafel Hut couples delicious food, great prices, and friendly service, all together into one irresistible package and reminds us that a warm dish should never be served alone.
Cheers to that.
-photos courtesy of Andrew