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Eat Your Way Through San Francisco at These 10 Palestinian-American-Owned Restaurants and Markets

posted on: Dec 19, 2021



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 falafelmjuddara (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.”