Eat your way through San Francisco at 10 Palestinian-American-owned restaurants and eateries.
As celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Tilda Swinton use their influence to shed light on human rights violations in Palestine, you may be inspired to support the Palestinian cause and learn more about the ongoing oppression of Palestinians. There is a delicious and fun way you can learn about Palestinians when you travel to San Francisco: by eating at Palestinian restaurants and connecting with Palestinian people.
It might be surprising to learn that San Francisco is home to a large population of Palestinians, as well as other Arabs. There was a mass migration out of Palestine in 1948 following the Nakba. Other waves of immigration followed due to lack of economic opportunity and the enduring occupation of Palestine. Because Arabs aren’t included as a category on the U.S. Census or other statistics, it is hard to know exactly how many Palestinians (or Arabs for that matter), actually live in San Francisco or Bay Area because we are forced to check the box for “white” or “other.” But as a Palestinian-Jordanian American who grew up in the Bay area, I know there is a thriving community of Palestinians here–so much so that we attended an Arabic-speaking Orthodox Church as kids (yes, Arabs are Christian too!) and often attended Arabic festivals, weddings, celebrations, Palestinian social clubs, and cultural events.
My father and his family are from Ramallah, Palestine, and can trace our family’s roots back to the seven brothers who founded the iconic city. My father and grandparents migrated to San Francisco in the 1950s hoping to escape the ongoing occupation of Palestine and pursue the American Dream in the San Francisco Bay Area where there was a growing population of Palestinian and other Arab immigrants. My mother’s family also lived in Jerusalem for many years while my gido (grandfather), worked for the British military. In fact, half of my khaltos and khalos, maternal aunts and uncles, were born in Jerusalem, before they all moved to Salt, Jordan following the Nakba.
Many Palestinian entrepreneurs started food-related businesses to capitalize on what they knew and with what little they had to survive after immigrating to the USA. It’s no wonder since hospitality and food are practically in the DNA of the Palestinian people. My teta (grandmother), used to make falafel, mjuddara (a dish of rice and lentils seasoned with cumin and topped with grilled onions, and fatayer (spinach pies seasoned with sumac and lemon), to sell wholesale to other restaurants. My father owned and operated a now-closed deli and catering outfit, Joe’s Deli and Catering in the Mission.
In fact, the rapidly expanding gourmet coffee chain Philz Coffee started as a small coffee shop founded by Palestinian immigrant Phil Jaber in San Francisco’s Mission District, not too far from my dad’s deli. You can see such Middle Eastern influences on the menu today as Labneh & Za’tar Toast, a strained yogurt cheese spread topped with a thyme and sesame seasoning blend. The chain has since expanded throughout California and to the D.C. metro area and Chicago.
Today the Palestinian entrepreneurial spirit remains strong—and delicious—as the next generation of Palestinian-Americans has taken on the torch from their families and brought in some of the flavors of the balad, (Arabic for country or land, usually used in reference to home or the old country), with some Californian touches or even something completely new. The hospitality is as warm and inviting as ever, and this new wave of business people are using their restaurants and social platforms to advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people. These 10 establishments are just a sampling of what San Francisco’s Middle Eastern food scene offers.
Sahtain! is used to say “bon appetite,” or literally translated, “wishing you doubly good health.”
Old Jerusalem Grill
Opened in 2005 in the Mission District, Old Jerusalem Grill promises a taste of back home with its scratch-made Palestinian dishes made to order. The casual grill serves up lentil soup, shawarma sandwiches, kabobs, dips, and Middle Eastern entrees. Try the classic Palestinian dish Mousakhan, oven-roasted chicken atop freshly baked Arab flatbread with lots of sweet onions, roasted pine nuts seasoned with sumac. End your meal with Baklawa, a pastry stuffed with pistachio, walnut, and cinnamon, or kunafa, warm syrup-soaked dessert of shredded wheat and cheese topped with crushed pistachio.
Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill
For a taste of the Middle East with a modern twist head to Abu Salim, recently opened by the same Palestinian and Syrian team that opened Old Jerusalem. This popular counter-service grill in the Upper Haight serves up some classics like creamy hummus, smoky eggplant dip babaganoush, kabobs, kefta, and kunafa. You will also find some delicious inventions like cheese-stuffed falafel, loaded falafel fries, and chicken shawarma fries. They use halal meat and serve many vegetarian options. Check out their TikTok page to hear some Middle Eastern beats and learn about their eats.
Reem’s has garnered a reputation for its pillowy pita and delicious flatbreads made to order in the heart of the Mission District. The brainchild of social organizer turned restaurateur Reem Assil, Reem’s was inspired by Arab street corner bakeries. A Palestinian-Syrian chef, Reem was also James Beard Semifinalist and San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star Chef, among other accolades. Reem’s fits into the Mission with its vibrantly decorated bright mural of Arabic words and other Middle Eastern art. Order your entire meal at the counter or on your phone and beautiful dishes will just show up at your table. Reem’s serves up classic dips and baked goods with a distinctly California flair. Bite into Ka’ik (traditional ringed sesame bread) sandwiches filled with an international array of ingredients, grab a slice of mana’eesh (baked flatbread) topped with classics like za’tar or pali cali, a play on the dish Mousakhan with chicken and sumac. Make sure to take some of their fluffy sourdough pita bread and pastries to go.
Down the street from Reem’s you will find Grand Coffee. Started by Palestinian-American Nabeel Silmi, Grand Coffee ethically sources and roasts their own coffee in-house. At their coffee shop in the Mission, you can order coffee and espresso drinks, pastries, and juices as you chat with neighbors, regulars, and Nabeel himself.
Bi-Rite Market & Creamery
This historic market has been in the Mission District since 1940, and you can still see the building’s signature art deco façade and original glazed tiles today. It was later purchased by the two Palestinian immigrant brothers, Jack and Ned Mogannam, in 1964. Sam and Raph, Ned’s sons, later took over the market and grew the business into the popular foodie-haven it is today. They have a huge selection of locally-sourced goods, restaurant-style prepared dishes, and gourmet picnic supplies, which is perfect for their proximity to Dolores Park where San Franciscans gather on sunny days. Bi-Rite is also famous for their delicious, small-batch ice cream served next door to the market on 18th Street. Bi-Rite partners with local creameries and chocolate makers like Guittard for their ingredients. They even make all of the mix-ins from their ice cream, everything from brownies to marshmallows. The grocery store and eatery has since expanded into additional locations in the Western Addition, Bayview, and Civic Center.
Customers describe Taboun as a “hidden gem” tucked in Cole Valley. The restaurant is named after a Taboun, a traditional clay oven used for cooking many dishes including Palestinian flatbread, which is also called taboun. Painted with murals that recall the past, this family-owned café offers up wraps, falafels, coffee, desserts, and other Middle Eastern staples. Lamb kebabs, shawarma, falafel, hummus, and the vegetarian plate are some of the popular items on the menu.
Named by Eater SF as one of San Francisco’s 38 Essential Restaurants, Beit Rima is quickly making a name for itself at its locations in Cole Valley and the Castro with its Arabic comfort food. Beit Rima translates to “Rima’s house” and serves Arabic comfort food like you might find at the home of an Arabic aunty or amo, how you might refer to a close friend or relative. Owner Samir Mogannam grew up in the restaurant business at his father’s local burger chain Burgermeister and worked in the restaurant industry before opening Beit Rima. Using his family recipes as well as his own culinary chops, Sam brings together the Jordanian heritage of his mother and his father’s Palestinian roots. Order at the counter and try such Middle Eastern staples made from seasonal, local ingredients like ful, seasoned fava beans; labneh, muhammar, a roasted pepper spread; and fattoush, a classic bread salad with greens. Other popular items include Gaza-style lamb shanks, whole-fried branzino, and Samir’s head-needed bread.
Sunrise Deli has been a fixture of the Inner Sunset since it opened in 1984. Just a few blocks away from Golden Gate Park, this unassuming eatery is known for its made-to-order falafel, shawarma, kebabs, and other fresh Middle Eastern food. They also bake ringed sesame bread (ka’ak), spinach pies, and other treats. They aim to source as much of their ingredients from local farms and ranches.
Sam’s is a “no frills” yet delicious burger joint which has stood in North Beach on Broadway Street since 1966. This hole-in-the-wall burger joint serves up some made-to-order burgers in San Francisco from its counter with vintage red stools. Sam’s was declared the Top 3 Burgers in the world by the late Anthony Bourdain on his show, “The Layover”. Within easy striking distance of many bustling bars in North Beach, Chinatown, and the Broadway corridor, it is easy to see why this burger joint is hopping into the wee hours of the night. Sam’s is now run by Emad Elshawa, the third generation of his family to run the eatery. Sam’s was recently added to San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry for its quality and longevity.
While not technically in San Francisco, Lulu’s Berkeley is making a splash in Berkeley as the newest Palestinian restaurant just across the San Francisco Bay. Palestinian-American chef Mona Leena first started serving Mana’eesh, a ubiquitous and delicious flatbread topped with za’tar and olive oil, from her pop-up Mana’eesh lady. She recently opened Lulu’s, Arabic for “pearl”, in Berkeley, serving Palestinian-inspired California cuisine. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and a weekend, mezze-style brunch with sharable dips, spreads, and baked goods.
To support Palestinian refugees, consider donating to UNRWA USA, a nonprofit that is committed to bettering the lives of Palestinian refugees through advocacy efforts in the United States and fundraising for UNRWA programs in the Middle East.