If you are ever in the mood for falafel, you need to check out Liba Falafel because they have the art of falafel down. What sets them apart is their presentation: they serve falafel sandwiches and salads with an brilliant, dress-your-own falafel bar – full of salads, sauces, and pickles that change seasonally. They started out as a food truck, making regular appearances in San Francisco and the East Bay (see their locations/schedule here) but opened up their falafel shop in Uptown Oakland this past July. Mr. K and I caught the truck at the Saturday farmer’s market at Lake Merritt (which I also encourage you to check out because there is so much cool stuff) and were quite impressed with the entire experience.
There was a line, but we needed the time to peruse the menu since it was our first visit. The menu offers two options: a falafel sandwich or salad and then you go to town at the Falafel bar and dress it up from the exciting salads, sauces and pickles. And about those falafels, they make them fresh every day, soaking organic chickpeas (garbanzos) overnight, then grinding and mixing them with a tasty combination of onions, spices, and herbs. The chef/owner Gail Lillian grinds the falafel more coarsely than most so that it fries up into a crunchy dark golden fritter with a tender fragrant interior that is enhanced by all the exciting flavors and textures from the salads and sauces. You can also choose to add some love, (delicious sides) such as Sweet Potato Fries, Soup (changes weekly, always vegan), or Pita Chip Basket with Beet Hummus by ordering a combo: a Little Love ($10.29) gets you a smaller pita sandwich, with 2 falafel balls and a side; Lotta Love ($11.29) is a bigger pita sandwich, with 3 falafel balls and a side; Leafy Love ($12.49) is 3 Falafels served over mixed greens with your choice of side.
There are so many choices at the falafel bar that there is an index for your convenience. The photo below is only for half of the selection. The other side had pickles, pickled red onions, tomato-ginger chutney, fried pickled onion, feta cheese, zucchini cabbage and rosemary peanuts.
You can top things off with squeeze bottles filled with flavorful hummus, a fiery red harissa, spicy green zhoug (a Yemeni hot sauce spiked with Serrano chilies, cardamom, cloves, and herbs) and cool yogurt raita. There are no seconds at the Falafel Bar, so people seem loathe to make the commitment and leave… I did and had to sneak back for an additional squeeze of raita and hummus!
Here is my lovely Falafel Salad, the falafel are served drizzled with hummus and spicy zhoug over a bed of mixed lettuce, which was like an empty canvas to pile on the toppings.
The salad shown with a couple of the sides, Sweet Potato fries, which have a delicious coating of garlic, cilantro and lime, and Spiced Pita Chip Basket which are dusted with house blend of spices, served with a vivid pink beet hummus.
Mr. K’s Falafel Sandwich with a Little Love ($10.29), the smaller pita sandwich made with 2 falafel balls and he chose the Pita Chip Basket with Beet Hummus, which I helped him eat. He felt that it was harder to put the salads he wanted to try inside of the pita bread, so I’d say go for the salad on your first visit so you can try more stuff.
The Sweet Potato Fries ($3.25) with garlic, cilantro, and lime were quite addictive, tender and caramelized on the outside.
‘Liba’ means romance or love in several languages and you can feel the love going on with this shrine to the falafel, from the server who stands ready to take your order, answer any questions, and ensuring that the fabulous falafel bar is always stocked to the quality and variety of ingredients that adorn your plate. Afterwards you can take a nice stroll around the lake, or at least walk around the bird sanctuary