At the Bay Area’s New Lebanese Restaurant, Grilled Meat Brings an Earthy, Smoky Quality to Takeout

At the Bay Area’s New Lebanese Restaurant, Grilled Meat Brings an Earthy, Smoky Quality to Takeout

It’s rare to see a consummate vegetarian restaurateur turn to meat; Usually the narrative is about omnivores, such as Daniel Humm from New York and the SingleThread team from Healdsburg, branching out into plant-based fashion concepts. But pivoting to meat is exactly what the Harbali family did with their new San Carlos restaurant, Jood, where tender, smoky kebabs and charcoal-grilled Lebanese meats are the centerpiece of the menu.

Rawan and Khaled Harbali own Falafelle, a green-accented counter-service place in Belmont that exclusively serves vegetarian food. There, the falafels are deep-fried to order, resulting in some of the most crunchy, delicate, and herbaceous fritters in the Bay Area. Since the couple opened it in 2016, the business has become more popular, with lines often stretching beyond the door. But Harbalis are not one-trick ponies. Despite making a living from chickpeas, Khaled Harbali hails from a prolific family of butchers and chefs.

Jood is easy to miss while walking down Laurel Street – it’s tucked away in a pocket-like alcove alongside a Thai restaurant. There are only a few small tables inside and a larger table on the sidewalk, although it’s clear from the biodegradable tableware and foot traffic going in and out that this is primarily a takeout-oriented operation.

Mario Moo applies a mixture of olive oil with lemon juice and minced garlic to a whole rotisserie chicken at Jood in San Carlos, California.

Mario Moo applies a mixture of olive oil with lemon juice and minced garlic to a whole rotisserie chicken at Jood in San Carlos, California.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

The subway’s serene, bright-white tile-clad space doesn’t seem like it has the kind of food that will greasy you up to the elbow with chicken grease. But it’s hard not to feel a primal churning deep in your jaw when you look at the charcoal-grilled bone and charred skin of Jood’s Grilled Chicken ($ 16 / $ 28). The bird is served in a butterfly, along with coleslaw, hummus, and a fluffy mound of toum, a garlic paste emulsified with a simple mixture of oil, salt, and lemon juice.

It was with a caveman-like sense of urgency that I dug my fingers in, grabbing chunks of skin and juicy meat into thin rectangles of lavash with the seasonings. Aromas of lemon, mixed with the earthy aromas of black pepper and cumin, floated over the platter. The chicken is already slathered with the spiciness, but consider adding more toum like drinking red wine with beef bourguignon, as an obvious and satisfying topping. If you can’t get enough toum, order the Garlic Baguette ($ 4), chunks of grilled bread just slathered with the filling.

Kebabs find time on the grill too, including kafta ($ 18) that looks like an extra long McRib. Made from a half and half mixture of halal sirloin and rib eye, parsley and onions, the meat flat coins are as incredibly soft and silky as a Cantonese fish ball. They come with charred tomato, jalape├▒o and onion that enhance the umami, subtly speaking of the many culinary handshakes that are exchanged between Lebanon and Mexico.

On the menu, the kafta is called “Chopped and Kneaded,” which is probably an accessibility game. In fact, the owners mention on the website that the name would initially be the eponymous for the restaurant itself, although I’m glad they stuck with “Jood”, an Arabic word that can be translated as “good-hearted” or ” generous.” There’s something about naming a dish after two verbs that just doesn’t sit well with me. Either way, whether you call it kafta or its American name, the flame-bathed plate is a great take on a classic.

The grill even touches salads, as with the grilled smoked halloumi ($ 18) garnished with a mix of beet, kale, and spinach microgreens. Its interior develops a subtle viscosity during cooking, while the exterior has an almost crouton chewiness.

Grilled Halloomi salata photographed at Jood in San Carlos, California.

Grilled Halloomi salata photographed at Jood in San Carlos, California.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Although Jood is this restaurant family’s foray into meat dishes, it’s clear that their experience at Falafelle has made them both vegan and vegetarian-friendly. The kafta has a meatless version made with meat from Impossible ($ 18), and the well-seasoned and succulent kebabs have convinced me that burgers are fatally dire uses of plant-based meat compared to this treat. Impossible skewers or bust.

Then there’s the delicious Heaven’s Sandweesh ($ 16): roasted cauliflower and eggplant, fries, nut pesto, super mild hummus, and spicy sun-dried tomato sauce rolled in a piece of lavash. Comprised of great ensemble performers, this veggie sandwich stands out.

Laurel Street 635, San Carlos. eatjood.com

Hours: From 11 to. M. At 8 p. M. From Monday to Saturday.

Services: Takeaway food indoors and outdoors.

Accessibility: No steps.

Noise level: Quiet.

Meal for two, without drinks: $ 35.

What to ask for: Kafta, grilled chicken, Heaven’s Sandweesh.

Meatless options: A lot, including four entrees and three salads.

Drinks: Drinks without alcohol.

Transport: Steps from San Carlos Caltrain Station. Ample street parking.


The other vegan sandwich is the sweet potato sandweesh ($ 8.88), a potato chip wrap that has all the makings of a great hangover meal. It has a hint of garlic and ketchup, with cole slaw for crunch, but there’s a key mistake here that runs through the entire menu: the fries aren’t very good. Like the famous fries at In-N-Out, Jood’s are hand-cut and fresh, but, like in In-N-Out, they appear to be fried only once. They are pale and a little greasy, like a photo of a fingerling with very high exposure. (Double frying, a technique that requires blanching the fries in not very hot oil in batches and then frying them to order, is what results in fluffy insides and golden brown crusts. Impossible to do this quickly if you are cutting fries to order. .)

Still, there is so much to love about this place that the fries are not a fatal flaw. I love the fact that Khaled Harbali will appear at your table with small plates of seasoned bulgur to eat while you wait for your food. And I love how strong the toum is unapologetically, how it drenches the palate with garlic flavor. Then there’s chicken, that dish with an evocative character that feels so much like a direct connection to the food we must have eaten at the beginning of civilization – it’s absolutely one of my favorite dishes of the year.

Soleil Ho is the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: soleil@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @hooleil

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