My mom has convinced me that there is an art to making matzo balls, and Mediterranean Wraps has convinced me that the same applies to falafel. Forget the soggy, tasteless or overly hardened falafel balls you've had at various food stands or inauthentic Middle Eastern restaurants. These falafel are deep-fried balls of spiced, mashed chickpeas and taste just as they are supposed to be -- heavenly.
In this tiny neighborhood restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto, it is easy to feel at home. You'll likely be warmly greeted by one of the owners. Place your order in front of the cooks, who are hand-rolling those incredible falafels and dropping them in a giant flat pan to flash fry them to crispy perfection, then walk past the best baklava in town to pay your bill at the register.
On a rainy day, you can take your falafel or other lunch or dinner choice to the small dining room in the back. On a nice day, sit outdoors at one of the sidewalk tables. Don't forget lots of napkins.
Mediterranean Wraps is a narrow quick-stop of a restaurant, a great place to grab a satisfyingly delicious lunch if you don't have time to linger or are on your way to a movie or back to work. If you want to sit a little longer, consider the sister restaurant, Kan Zeman, on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, a bit more upscale, but the same great options for food.
The menu at Mediterranean Wraps spans simple falafel wraps with chopped cucumbers, lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce ($6.60) that come rolled tightly in foil and plopped into a plastic basket, to Kufta Kabab Wrap, lamb and beef or chicken marinated to tenderness and wrapped with lettuce, purple onion, chopped tomatoes and tahini ($7.80).
Wraps are served in what appear to be giant tortillas, but these are flattened and flash grilled so that the char marks offer an earthy background flavor for the fillings. If you like a little heat, be sure to say so, and the cooks will add hot sauce to your heart's content.
My favorite wrap is the falafel with added eggplant ($6.60), which also benefits from the charring of the eggplant that gives it a little after-bite. This wrap is big enough for two, so I usually end up taking half of it home. If you are super hungry, go for the Falafel Deluxe Wrap, which includes all of the above plus potato for $7.35.
House-made lentil soup ($3.25) is offered on a daily basis and will be posted on the white board as you enter. The house-made hummus plate ($8) is a generous helping of the traditional chickpea dip (but nothing like what you get at the market -- this is redolent with lemon and garlic), with salad, pickles, falafel and pita bread. It makes a great vegetarian choice if you are looking for variety.
Meat eaters will want to go for the Shawerma Plate ($10.75), slivers of lamb and beef, sliced paper-thin from the rotating roasts before you, then served with all the accompaniments of the hummus plate.
Baba ghannoush, the creamy dip made from the filling of those charbroiled eggplants, also comes as a plate with green salad and warm pita ($8).
If you save room for something sweet, don't miss the baklava. This is not your Costco variety (not that there's anything wrong with that.)
The layers of buttery pastry with various nut fillings (choose from pistachio, walnut or chocolate) melt in your mouth. It is the perfect ending after a savory wrap.
425 S. California Ave.,
Types of food: Middle
Average meal price: Less than $10 for lunch or dinner, including a drink
Good choices: Falafel wraps and plates, Baba ghannoush
Not recommended: Beware of hot sauce. It isn't for the faint hearted. And be aware that a big line can form at peak lunch hour.
Attitude: Super friendly and warm, makes visitors feel right at home
Amenities: Made before your eyes, fresh and delicious in a flash
Vegetarian option: At least half the menu is vegetarian so plenty for the non-meat eater
Drinks: Soda, sparkling water, juice
Eat in car: Not recommended
Next-day edibility: You'll lose some of the crunch,
and lettuce may wilt.
Who goes there: Single working people, groups from nearby companies, locals and regulars
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: On street and lot parking readily available
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.