In the sprawling metropolis better known as Los Angeles, there’s no problem finding cuisine from any corner of the world. However, compared to other big American cities like New York and Chicago, it is slim pickings on the West Coast when it comes to greasy little gyro stands or the late night shaworma shacks. That is why Santa Monica is home to such a gem in The Hungry Pocket Falafel House.
The name is a mouthful in itself! And a mouthful of falafel is exactly what you will get, especially if you pop in Monday or Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. This is the Hungry Pocket’s all you can eat falafel sandwich night and a favorite dinner destination for people looking for a good deal.
“The record is nine falafel sandwiches. People try to beat it, but the record has been nine sandwiches for about 10 or 11 years now,” owner Mike Lafev said.
That sounds like an extreme amount of sandwiches to eat in one sitting. That also sounds like an open invitation and challenge to hungry Santa Monicans citywide. And the residents of this city do know a thing or two about the Hungry Pocket. While it has received plenty of acclaim from newspapers and bloggers alike, it is the neighborhood customers that are Lafev’s bread and butter.
“Businesses come and go, but we’re pretty steady. We have a lot of regulars coming back,” he said.
The restaurant itself is rather unassuming. Nestled in a small mini-mall across the street from Santa Monica College, the Hungry Pocket seats no more than 20 people. When school gets out, the place becomes a madhouse. It has been this way as long as most people can remember, and Lafev is the best person to go to for a quick history lesson on the Hungry Pocket.
In 1968 an Israeli family owned the property, way back when the restaurant was named Uncle Mustache. From there a Lebanese family purchased the place and changed the name to Hungry Pocket. In 1984 Lafev, an electrical engineer at the time, purchased the Hungry Pocket, made an instant career change, and has been running the restaurant ever since. Taking on the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, not much has changed with the Hungry Pocket in his 25 years of operation, except the Uncle Mustache name — everyone agreed that had to go.
From Israeli to Lebanese to now Persian proprietary, the Hungry Pocket has changed hands from almost half of the Middle East. While ownership has changed, the menu has always stayed intact; shaworma, gyros, kabobs, and of course falafel. In a region that has been embattled in everything from politics, to religion, to border disputes, leave it to some simple Mediterranean comfort food to bring people together.
“Israelis, Iraqis have there differences on the street, Turks and Greeks too, but in here everyone seems to get along, they can all agree on the food,” Lafev said.
The Hungry Pocket Falafel House is not simply making Mediterranean food and sending people on there way. It is a place that is serving up solidarity one falafel sandwich at a time.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek or his website at Greaseweek.com.