Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine is something that is near and dear to my heart. As the son of parents who emigrated to America from Palestine, the food from this cultural crossroads has been making its way to my mouth for my entire life.

However, growing up—and even late into my 20s—I refused to eat anything resembling food from that region unless it came out of my mother’s kitchen. But after much cajoling, a few friends convinced me to start branching out, and my culinary world was instantly expanded.

As denizens of the Silicon Valley, it is worth remembering that we share our Mediterranean climate with only a handful of other regions in the world. While we may experience some hot days this summer, ours is a far milder, drier and clearer-skied heat than what much of the rest of this country can expect to face this season.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the so-called Mediterranean diet is considered among the most healthy in the world, as it is rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and olive oil (not to mention great wine). Of course, there’s also plenty for carnivores, as the kabob is a staple of many countries abutting the Mediterranean Sea.

As we continue to enjoy our warm—but not scorching—summer, it only makes sense to sample the many Mediterranean cuisines that have come from one of the old world’s greatest cultural and culinary melting pots to one of the new world’s most diverse metropolitan areas.

Athena Grill
1505 Space Park Dr, Santa Clara
This quaint eatery fills up fast during weekday lunches and features beautiful Grecian blue and white decor, as well as a terrific dog-friendly patio dining area. While one can’t go wrong ordering up the ubiquitous gyro, it’s their grilled octopus mezes that really caught my attention; nice and crispy on the outside and cooked perfectly in the middle, this is one signature dish worth ordering repeatedly.

Dish Dash & Dish N Dash
Multiple locations
Running the gamut from fine dining at their Dish Dash locations to a counter-service fast-casual experience at their Dish N Dash restaurants, this South Bay chain has a great selection Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare. No matter which location diners choose, the menus all offer pretty much the same and the quality is always top-notch. I almost always order their mansaf, an enchanting blend of rice, shredded lamb, slivered almonds and a fermented dried yogurt sauce that’s heaven on a plate. Also, this is one of the few restaurants on this list that gets my mom’s seal of approval.

Diwan Al Falafel
1085 E Brokaw Rd, San Jose
Chef Mohammed Afif’s more than 40 years of culinary experience comes to a head in this all-Halal eatery in San Jose’s northside. Their giant slabs of meat turning on a rotisserie brings me back to street food vendors In the Middle East. Their off-the-menu chicken and beef/lamb combo plate is the best value and comes in a gigantic portions–enough for two patrons or one hungry food writer.

Falafel’s Drive-In
2301 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose
A South Bay institution since 1966, this is the pre-eminent spot to get those crunchy balls of crushed garbanzo beans and spices—yes, I’m talking ‘bout the humble falafel. One would be remiss not getting their famous falafel and fresh banana shake combo, as featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, as the cool tasty shake helps quench the heat of their fiery chili sauce that comes standard on each falafel sandwich.

Dio Deka
210 E Main St, Los Gatos
Located inside the beautiful Hotel Los Gatos, Dio Deka was awarded a Michelin star back in 2010. It’s since lost the honorific, but the restaurant is still definitely worthy of a visit, according to the 2018 Michelin guide—which singles out Dio Deka’s wine list as “excellent.” Check out the lovely patio and try one of their many seafood options to keep things authentically Mediterranean.

The seafood is on point at Evvia Estiatorio in Palo Alto.

The seafood is on point at Evvia Estiatorio in Palo Alto.

Evvia Estiatorio
420 Emerson St, Palo Alto
A favorite of lunching venture capitalists and tech execs, Evvia Estiatorio is a sister restaurant to San Francisco’s Kokkari Estiatorio. This upscale restaurant seeks to keep true to the core character of Greek cuisine while adding modern twists where appropriate. The seafood is a safe bet here. Their offerings of whole fish, octopus and calamari are all seasoned with authentic Greek aromatics and livened up with bright lemon notes and silky olive oils.

Gotta Eatta Pita
86 N Market St, San Jose
This East Bay chain finally made its way to San Jose a few years back and is the brainchild of Yaniv Benaroya (aka the Pita King). I like to think of them as Mediterranean Chipotle, as their meals are served up assembly line-style. My go-to is their couscous bowl with their delicious eggplant, feta and a half-and-half protein option of chicken and falafel. A side of their pillow-soft housemade pitas is also a must-get.

Gulzaar Halal Restaurant
1880 W San Carlos St, San Jose
This classic hole-in-the-wall family-run spot is a hidden gem and probably my favorite place to get kabobs. Their chicken or veggie samosas are a great way to start the meal, with their crunchy exterior and tasty fillings. Their mixed plate, which features one beef and one chicken kabob, along with a side salad and their addictive rice—speckled with crunchy, mouthwatering bits—is my go-to here. It’s worth noting that the kabobs come in three spice levels: mild, medium and “holy shit!”

Nemea Greek Taverna
96 S. First St, San Jose
This is the go-to place for a sit-down Greek meal in downtown San Jose. However, with its full bar located adjacent to the dining room, Nemea is also a great place to grab a few drinks and small bites after work. When it comes to their specialty cocktails, consider getting adventurous and order the Medusa—a crafty concoction of vodka, basil, egg white and ouzo, of course.

Nick the Greek
Multiple locations
This local chain is exploding all over the South Bay—they’re opening up their ninth location soon—and are renowned for their gyros. Their eponymous Nick fries are a culinary treat. These fresh, hand-cut fries are topped with feta, garlic, spicy yogurt and a choice of gyro meat or falafel.

Multiple locations
Named for a Greek exclamation—“Opa!”—this small local chain was born in the South Bay and even has a location in Walnut Creek. On the lighter side, try the vegetarian dolmades (grape leaves wrapped around a rice, mint, dill and tomato filling), or the beet salad with pita bread and skordalia (a whipped potato and garlic dip) on the side. If you’re looking for something a bit heartier, you can’t go wrong with the gyro and a side of Opa! Fries.

Oren’s Hummus
Multiple locations
This local chain specializes in authentic Israeli cuisine, and imports many of their items straight from Israel to guarantee authenticity. Their hummus lamb plate is a tasty combo of slightly gamey lamb and fresh, creamy hummus. Also, their deep-fried cauliflower “fries” app is another must-get, and comes with a delicious pesto-labne dipping sauce.

Real Kabob Persian Restaurant
2982 Almaden Expwy, San Jose
As the name states, this place specializes in juicy, grilled kabobs, which come served with mounds of fluffy basmati rice—and a charred tomato for good measure. For a real treat, try their No. 20 combo, which features zereshk polo (barberries) with their juicy chicken kabobs; the barberries taste a lot like a tarter, sweeter cranberry and really give this dish an unusual but pleasant kick.

1625 Almaden Rd, San Jose
Reyhan is undoubtedly the biggest hidden gem on this list—its location puts the “dust” in industrial. But food adventurers will be rewarded with what might be the best Persian kabobs in the South Bay, and in truly gigantic portions to boot. Their chicken and beef koobideh combo are the thing to get and can definitely be shared by two very hungry patrons.

Sophie’s Mediterranean Grill
4035 Evergreen Village Sq Unit 20, San Jose
From the owners of Caspian Village comes a fast-casual spot in the heart of Evergreen. Sophie’s features an all-Halal lineup of meats and the usual cavalcade of Mediterranean eats. Their beef kofta kabob with its flame-grilled exterior and the pungent garlic fries are sure to satisfy the heartiest of appetites.

It’s clear that Soulvaki’s Greek Skewers is authentic—they have Yia Yia (grandma) cooking in the back. Photo by John Dyke

It’s clear that Soulvaki’s Greek Skewers is authentic—they have Yia Yia (grandma) cooking in the back. Photo by John Dyke

Souvlaki’s Greek Skewers
577 W Alma Ave, San Jose
This charming spot in east Willow Glen serves up some of the most authentic Greek cuisine in the South Bay. It’s not unusual to see Yia Yia (grandma) cooking in the back and whipping up something special. As the name suggests, souvlakis (a.k.a. kabobs) are their signature dish—but it’s Yia Yia’s moussaka, or Greek lasagna, that keeps me coming back time and again. Its silky béchamel sauce, heavenly layers of eggplant and ground beef makes for a truly sumptuous meal.

Stone Stew
398 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
Stone Stew might be the most unusual pick on this entire list. Not only is their location (in the back of a grocery store) and specialty dishes unusual, but the interior décor might be one of the most beautiful and unusual places I’ve ever dined at—it’s got to be seen to be believed. Essentially the stews are brought out in clay pots; diners pour off the excess liquid and mash the contents until it’s a fine mush and then gobble up the tasty delights with their fresh-baked Afghan naan.

Tayyibaat Meat and Grill
10 S Abbott St, Milpitas
This is an unusual location, as it’s actually a Halal butcher shop that also happens to serve up Afghani kabobs, rotisserie chicken—and even burgers with halal bacon, which made from thin strips of beef. The kabobs are the thing to get here, and they come as either “tikka” (cubed meat) or “chili” (ground meat), but my vote goes to the chili version. Seating is extremely limited, and it fills up fast at lunchtime with the local tech sector lunch crowd, so be prepared to wait.

Yas Restaurant
1138 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
For more than 20 years now Yas has been serving up delicious Persian home-cooked meals in their hard-to-miss blue and white building on Saratoga Avenue. Yas’ specializes in massive kabobs, and my favorite dish is the Yas Special, which produces one chicken and one beef koobideh kabob that are as tasty as they are massive.

Multiple locations
Yiassoo’s location in Campbell is one of the first places I can recall getting an authentic gyro nearly 20 years ago, and they remain my gold standard to this day. Their Super Gyro is my go-to, as it packs so much extra meat and feta cheese into their pillow-soft pita that it makes it hard to wrap one’s mouth around it for the first bite. Feeling extra hungry? Get the Super Gyro plate that comes with their fresh-cut fries and some green stuff the kids call “sal-ahd.”