211 W. 4th Street
Open: M-Tues 11am-11pm
Sunday call ahead, as they sometimes close early
A lot of folks shy away from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine because they are unfamiliar with it and aren’t sure they will like it. Even some vegetarians I know aren’t “adventurous” enough to give it a try, which is a shame since it is not only incredibly tasty but healthy to boot.
I’ve listed a menu primer at the end to aid those unfamiliar with this culinary style, but let me just say that if you are interested in trying it but are worried about wasting money if you don’t like it, go to Jordan Valley.
Located next to the Scientology center between Plum and Elm, the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the sidewalk and on rainy days there always seem to be smokers puffing away under their canopy, but don’t let that put you off visiting, because it’s a great place to get delicious Middle East vegetarian food at rock-bottom prices.
The family-owned and operated restaurant looks a little scruffy and well worn as you walk in the door, with some travel posters of Jordan, a couple of camel-shaped planters and artificial trees the only decorations, but hey, we aren’t paying for ambiance here and if that’s what it takes to keep the prices down, so be it.
There are numerous vegetarian selections in every section of their modest menu. Of course there are plenty of salads: Greek, Middle Eastern, Tabouli, and Fattoush. I was disappointed in the Middle Eastern salad I chose on one occasion, as it was absolutely drowning in tahini. Tahini, a paste made from toasted sesame seeds and olive oil, is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and is probably best known as an ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush. I love the taste of it in moderation, but the salad was really swimming with it. Too bad.
There is a combo platter of several items on the appetizer list, which includes hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel and tabouli. There’s also manakeesh (spelled manikesh at Jordan Valley), a Lebanese flat bread pastry topped with a spice mix of thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and olive oil. For those afraid to risk it, there are also veggie burgers, fries and cheese pizza.
By far my favorite items on their menu are the pita wraps; not the powdery, tough supermarket-style pita that some places use, but a melt-in-your-mouth soft but substantial flatbread similar to Indian naan, stuffed with your choice of falafel, hummus, Greek salad or grilled cheese. Do yourself a favor and try the falafel wrap – it’s a meal in itself and at $3.79 is an unbelievable deal. The falafel is perfectly made; ground chickpea patties that are crispy brown on the outside yet soft and crumbly on the inside. GORGEOUS! I frequently make falafel at home, but since I bake instead of fry mine, they are never quite as savory – or as addicting - as the ones at Jordan Valley. They are generous with the falafel too, as usually there are three or four croquettes stuffed inside, along with onions, lettuce, pickle, tomato, and hot banana peppers, with what tastes like tzatziki drizzled on top. Sometimes you get beets and cucumbers too; I guess it depends on who’s making the wrap that day. The falafel wrap is hot, filling and seriously addicting. I swear sometimes I wake up in the night craving one, and just writing about it is making me yearn to dash over there for a fix.
At least it’s an addiction I can easily afford!
As promised, here is a Middle Eastern cuisine primer. I’ve included a pronunciation guide for each item, but there is usually more than one way to pronounce many of them. This is also not a complete listing of Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine, as I am listing only the vegetarian items available at Jordan Valley.
Baba Ghanoush: [bah-bah gah-NOOSH] A puree of eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Used as a spread or dip for pita and flatbread.
Couscous: [KOOS-koos] granular semolina (cracked wheat) that can be cooked and served with milk as porridge, with a dressing as a salad, or sweetened and mixed with fruit as a dessert.
Falafel: [feh-LAH-fehl] small, deep-fried croquettes or balls of spiced, ground chickpeas. My husband likes to make the joke “I don’t wanna feel awful” whenever he’s asked if he’d like falafel for dinner. If you don't get the joke, say it out loud.
Fattoush: [fah-TOOSH or fah-DOOSH] Salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onion, lettuce and green pepper with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, mint, garlic, salt and vinegar, topped with toasted pita bread. Sumac lends a slightly sour taste to this dish.
Greek Salad: Also known as “village salad,” it is comprised of chopped tomato, cucumber, red onion, salt, pepper and oregano with olive oil, although common additions are green pepper, kalamata olives, feta cheese and pepperoncini. When added to a pita, tzatziki sauce is often used.
Hummus: [HOOM-uhs or HUM-uhs] Thick puree made of mashed chickpeas seasoned with lemon juice, garlic, and olive or sesame oil. Sometimes tahini is also added.
Manakeesh/Manikesh: [mne-eesh] Similar to small pizza with a blend of thyme and olive oil.
Middle East Salad: Salad made of diced tomato, cucumber, onion and tahini.
Pita bread: [PEE-tah] Also known as pocket bread, this flatbread is made of white or whole-wheat flour.
Tabouli/Tabbouleh: [tuh-BOO-luh] Bulgur wheat mixed with chopped tomatoes, onions, mint, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. Usually served cold.
Tahini: [tah-HEE-nee] Thick paste made of ground, toasted sesame seed, used to flavor various dishes.
Tzatziki sauce: [za-ZEE-kee] Creamy combination of yogurt, cucumber and garlic, usually served as a dip or dressing.
All of Jordan Valley’s vegetarian options run under $5 except for the combination platter, which costs $7.50 and when you consider the number of appetizers included, that’s excellent value and a great way to sample what they’ve got. Another plus: they are open late seven days a week, serving up delicious and cheap vegetarian fare well into the night.