Petra’s Combining Pizza and Shawarma in San Luis Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Let’s face it. The U.S. and the Middle East have had their disagreements in recent years. So how about smoothing things over a little with a culinary compromise, a delectable detente?

It seems Petra, a friendly, family restaurant in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California has already beaten everyone to the punch, so to speak. Specifically, the Mediterranean-style eatery is combining an American classic, the pizza, with a Middle-Eastern staple, the shawarma.

Take the Gyro Pizza, which features marinated, spit-shaved meat and Petra’s signature garlic sauce. This creamy, mildly spiced sauce appears again in a pie with marinated chicken shawarma and artichoke hearts.

Petra's produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

Petra’s produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

It’s all lovely stuff, loaded onto a thin crust that could be dough or fresh pita; I’ll let the Italian authorities weigh in on this. Petra also caters to solo diners, witness a perfect-sized, eight-inch pizza for $10.

As if Petra is not doing enough for world peace, and happy bellies, a server wanders out into the parking lot and starts passing out free samples of the made-daily pita. Talk about diplomacy.

Petra
1210 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, California
Daily 10:30 am-10:30 pm
Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill on Urbanspoon

Brazilian Breakfast in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

Mexican food I’m expecting in the busy California coast city of Santa Cruz, or maybe a surfer cafe. But Brazilian? Sign me up.

At Cafe Brasil, it’s certainly different than your usual morning fare. How about something civilized and light, like Pingado—a pot each of coffee and hot milk, along with fresh baguette and fruit—or an acai smoothie smothered in granola, strawberries and bananas?

I go off my map with Orfeu Negro, a dish of black beans on a baguette and then topped with a couple of poached eggs.  Ole!

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

Cafe Brasil is located in a funky little house decorated in the brilliant national colours of yellow and green. If you’ve been at a surfer party the night before, you may need sunglasses.

Cafe Brasil
1410 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, California
Daily 8 am-3 pm
Cafe Brasil on Urbanspoon

Falling for a Drive-by Falafel in San Jose

 

They've got fast-food falafels down to a science at this popular San Jose drive-in

They’ve got fast-food falafels down to a science at this popular San Jose drive-in

I’ve been to my share of drive-ins that serve up burgers, tacos, doughnuts, you name it. But falafels? That’s got to be a new twist.

Actually, Falafel’s Drive In has been a San Jose fixture since Anton and Zahie Nijmeh opened the place in the mid-1960s. Now, they’ve got it down to a science.

No sooner do I order, and pay for, my $4.25 falafel half sandwich, than the server is handing me this generous pita stuffed with parsley-speckled, crispy chickpea balls and family-recipe tahini and hot sauce. Ten minutes after I drive in, I’ve finished off this savoury dish and drive out, well satisfied and ready to hit the road again.

Half a falafel is leaving me more than half full

Half a falafel is leaving me more than half full

Falafel’s Drive In
2301 Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Jose, California
Monday to Saturday 10 am-8 pm, Sunday 10 am-6 pm
Falafel's Drive-in on Urbanspoon

A Journey Into Exotic Burmese Cuisine in San Jose

Table-side salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Tableside salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken seem to have been around forever. But all these North American classics are but newborns compared to a cuisine that’s 1,000 years old. So why in all my considerable years of exploratory grazing have I never tasted Burmese food?

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine, in San Jose, California, of all places, offers a chance to rectify this. Unfortunately, I’m lunching alone and thus regretfully have to pass over some enticing curries, stews and noodle dishes.

Instead, I zero in on a Burmese classic—an exotic-sounding tea leaf salad ($9). It features a combination of ingredients I’ve never seen before: pickled tea leaves, fried beans and garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, dried shrimp and marinated cabbage. My server arrives with all this on a plate and proceeds to carefully toss it tableside with a spoon and tongs.

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Time to dig in. The taste is as unusual as the combination. It’s both wet and crunchy, slightly astringent and bearing an unusual, umami-like flavour; maybe it’s the pickled tea leaves.

Overall, it’s well worth the adventure. Now, I just have to find more Burmese eateries and friends to explore the menu with.

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine
1312 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, California
Wednesday to Monday lunch 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner 5 pm-9 pm. Closed Tuesday
Kyusu Burmese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I’m a Content Puppy at San Jose’s Happy Dog

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

I’m parked somewhat precariously at a 10-minute-only stall in front of a 7-Eleven near San Jose State University. Joe, the manager at Happy Dog next door, says it will take seven minutes to prepare my pork pineapple sausage.

The good news, then, is my dog will be made to order. The bad is I’ll only have three minutes to choke it down or risk a ticket, tow or reprimand. So, I’m keeping one eye on my watch and the other on proceedings as Joe lightly grills a fresh French roll and walks the grilled dog aboard. I add a squirt of mustard, a sprinkling of sauerkraut and a healthy dose of Joe’s homemade, crunchy pickled cabbage.

“If it’s a good dog, you don’t need ketchup,” he declares. Agreed. Still, by the time everything’s loaded up, I’ve got scant seconds to legally choke the hot dog down. But with the first bite through the bursting skin into the meaty goodness within, my efficient resolve dissolves. “Screw it. I’m savouring this puppy.”

Happy Dog
284 South 11 Street, San Jose, California
Daily 11 am-10 pm, except 9 pm Sunday. Cash only
Supreme Dog on Urbanspoon

A Staggeringly Good Sandwich in Downtown Oakland

Deciding what delicious sandwich to order at Stags Lunchette in downtown Oakland

Deciding what delicious sandwich to order at Stags Lunchette in downtown Oakland

I ask the guy at the counter of Stags Lunchette if they have a takeout (or even an online) menu. “No, we change it every couple of weeks,” he says.

I could stare up at the board and decipher the intriguing list of sandwiches currently on offer at this a bustling little place in downtown Oakland. Instead, I do something distinctly un-Canadian and start asking customers, seated at high tables in the darkened space, what they’re eating. One woman has turned a grilled wild mushroom tartine into a heaping salad, which she is  jealously guarding with a fork. A nearby guy is tucking into a heaping smoked meatloaf sandwich, which he says is great, especially if you like extra bacon.

No point salivating over these selections. Stags' menu changes constantly

No point salivating over these selections. Stags’ menu changes constantly

I decide to test them on a simple grilled cheese sandwich, which in Stags’s hands (hooves?) is a not-so-simple mix of Belfiore mozza and Wykes aged white cheddar. And how can I resist adding some whiskey bacon chutney, bringing this gourmet comfort-food total to $7, including a little spring salad and wee gerkins.

Just calling this a grilled cheese does this sandwich a disservice

Just calling this a grilled cheese sandwich does it a disservice

I could tell you what to order. But by the time you read this, you’ll have to do your own detective work on a fresh menu. Just make sure you go. I can tell you it’s damn good.

Stags Lunchette
362 17 Street, Oakland, California
Weekdays 8 am-3 pm, Saturday 9 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
Stag's Lunchette on Urbanspoon