Recently, I’ve been commuting to El Cajon twice a week and have been enjoying exploring the local chow, especially the Iraqi offerings. Here are a few of my favorites:
Ali Baba (421 E. Main Street) makes the best hummus I have ever tasted. Super creamy and garlicky, it’s downright addictive when paired with their piping hot flat bread. I have also enjoyed their shawarma plate and the shawarma sandwich. The purple pickled turnips add a nice crunch and tang. I’m looking forward to going back with a group and trying the Masgoof (whole fish baked with special spices and Iraqi salsa) and the Pacha (stuffed honey combs and intestine with rice and lamb shank). Has anyone tried these two house specialties?
Unlike the richly decorated Ali Baba, the newly opened Village Grille (diagonally across the street from Ali Baba) is pretty barebones inside, but I had a nice falafel there for three bucks. The falafel was made fresh from scratch and served up in a warm chewy bread. It came stuffed with an array of fresh crunchy veggies and pickled ones. (It was the first time I’ve had baby corn in a falafel sandwich!) Next time, I'll try one of their more Chaldean dishes, like the kobba musilli, a crushed-wheat pie stuffed with beef.
El Cajon International Market (502 E. Main Street)
I picked up a tray of their assorted fresh baklava for a party, and it was pretty good, a bit more savory than I’m used to when it comes to baklava. I have also tried their small shawarma sandwich. The bread they use at Ali Baba’s is better, but the lamb here was juicier and well-spiced. The day I was there, two documentary filmmakers came in to film their shawarma maker at work. This market is an incredible place to pick up Middle Eastern spices and ingredients of all sorts—it inspires me to try out some new recipes.
Neveria Tocumbo (1183 E. Main Street)
I love the ice cream at the original store on Market Street, so I was delighted to come across their other store here in El Cajon. The owner said that they’ve only been open here for a year or so and that they have far less foot traffic in El Cajon than in SD. It’s pretty dead during the day, he said, but hopping at night. The guava and rose petal I had were just as good as I remembered at the Market Street store. Right now, some of the other interesting flavors they have are nanche (yellow cherry), guanabana (soursop), mamey, grosella (gooseberry), and bubulubu (strawberry, marshmallow, and chocolate).
Any other recommendations for good eats in El Cajon? Or for other specialties to try in the many Iraqi eateries? Next time, I'm planning to hit up the taqueria inside Foodland, as suggested by Cathy.
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