Bringing A Taste Of Palestine To La Mesa

EL CAJON BOULEVARD -- It is Wednesday night on what traditionally has been a struggling part of this street that runs through western La Mesa to the city line.

But within the modestly adorned store front that is Haritna Mediterranean Restaurant a comedy act is taking to the stage.

Most of the tables are filled and 52-year-old Yousef Abudayyeh is in the kitchen pursuing his passion.
"I love to cook,'' he says. "That's why my wife married me!"

Abudayyeh's restaurant near 73rd Street, which opened last year, is beginning to find a foothold along a stretch of La Mesa that continues to show the signs of a revival. Just a few doors down is Terra, a new fashionable stop for La Mesa foodies, and just a bit further east is BMH Italian. It is not quite another restaurant row, but for those who watch La Mesa development closely, things are clearly trending up along El Cajon Boulevard.

Abudayyeh, an immigrant from Palestine, has lived in San Diego for more than half his life. He ran a downtown restaurant, but, like others including nearby Terra, he decided the lower rent and more neighborhood feel of La Mesa would give him a chance to run the kind of restaurant he wanted.

"The overhead in the city (of San Diego) has gotten pretty tough,'' he said.

Haritna (which means "our neighorhood" in Arabic) Mediterranean is not overally decorated restaurant on its exterior, but as you enter it is clear the proprietor was thinking about decor. It features warm colors and an Arabian feel with tables that can easily be moved to fit parties of all sizes. There is a small stage to accommodate music and comedy and an outdoor porch to support the hookah (water filtered tobacco) trend which is particularly popular among college students.

Thursday nights are particularly popular with the college students who typically arrive after the dinner service at 10 p.m. to enjoy the outdoor porch.

Abudayyeh describes his Palestinian menu as similar in some ways to the lamb, beef and rice dishes in Iraqi restaurants that have grown up in East County in recent years, but he points out the Palestinian spicing is stronger.

And a sampling of his food, accompanied with warm rounds of delicious homemade bread, was spicier than the Iraqi and Chaldean foods, but still relatively subtle when compared with strong, Mexican dishes that are spiced by hotter chilis. The prices, like Terra down the street, are modest for the quality and quantity of what you receive.

We had hummus with beef, a lovely garlic and tomato sauce, spiced/roast chicken and lamb kabobs. All of it very good and the servings were enough to easily fuel the next day's lunch with your take-home leftovers.  The service was attentive and charming. That a comedy show by Brew Ha Ha was conducted at mid-dinner on this night added a sort of New York bistro feel to the place.

When you exited at the night's end, out into the cool night air, it was only then you remembered you had ventured beyond the usual places in La Mesa.

Abudayyeh has added texture, warm colors and a new taste to La Mesa's quilt.

Haritna Mediterranean is located at 7303 El Cajon Boulevard. Phone 619-462-2722.






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Tags: Haritna Mediterranean Restaurant, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa restaurants, Yousef Abudayyeh


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