In a town where flagrant displays of foodie-ism are de rigueur for virtually everyone with two taste buds to rub together, it feels audacious, even foolhardy, to declare that I know of a hidden dining gem that has yet to be sullied by the ravenous farm-to-fork bon vivants. And yet here I am, thinking it’s possible. This special little place meets all the hidden-gem criteria. One, I’ve never seen a picture of it on my Instagram feed. Two, there are only 53 photos on its Yelp page. And three, its prices haven’t budged over the years I’ve been going there, making me think they still have yet to realize just how good they are.
I’m talking about Babylon City Market. A Persian grocery store with a hot-foods takeout counter, Babylon City offers both a charming shopping experience and what is, hands down, the best cheap sandwich for miles.
The falafel sandwich consists of a row of hot, crunchy falafel nestled on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, pickled vegetables, hummus and tahini in a warm samoon. The samoon itself, a diamond-shaped flatbread whose crisped exterior gives way to a fluffy, doughy inside, would be worth the $2.99 price tag. But bulging with falafel stuffing, it can last me two meals. For a slightly higher price, meat eaters can have their samoon crammed with chicken or beef shawarma, or as a side to one of the shish kabob platters. The small bakery at the back of the store sells fresh samoon by the bag, along with lavash and other Persian breads.
Numerous dessert pastries are spread out on platters around the cash register, and you’ll find plenty of baklava, including bird’s nest baklava. A dough of flour and water is shredded into strings, which are then twirled around a sweet walnut filling, rolled into a cigar shape, wrapped in phyllo dough and baked before being soaked in a sugar syrup and topped with crushed pistachios. It’s light and crisp, and it’s only $1. Equally delightful is what appears to be the Persian version of a doughnut hole, called bamiyeh. These fried balls of dough, served warm, are soaked so thoroughly in rich sugar syrup that they require copious napkin use. The guys behind the counter are happy to let you try one before you commit.
How Babylon City Market has gone largely unnoticed in a food culture that chews up restaurants and spits them back out all over Facebook, I can’t fathom. Maybe it’s the lack of photo-op-ready food presentation. (Your meals are served in Styrofoam takeout boxes.) Maybe it’s the location. Either way, this fascinating little grocery store is the very definition of underrated and deserves much more love from the foodie community.
- Falafel sandwich ($2.99)
- Beef shawarma sandwich ($5.99)
- Chicken shish kabob meal ($7.99)
- Bird’s nest baklava ($1 each)
- Half pound of bamiyeh ($3.19)
So try it. Make it popular. Just don’t be too mad at me if I blurt out a rude “Oh, that place? I’ve been eating there for ages. I’ve liked it since before it was popular.” 1745 Watt Ave.; (916) 486-7777