There’s just one person working inside the new F & H Shack in Little Arabia, and he is a man of few words. Middle-aged with creases on his face, he is wearing not a uniform, but an unbuttoned polo shirt that made him resemble a customer. It wasn’t until he brought more pita bread to a table where three other men ate that I realized he was the proprietor.
When I went up to order, the man didn’t say hello or offer any help in navigating the menu. He didn’t have to. If you’re new to Middle Eastern cuisine, F & H Shack is probably the least intimidating restaurant in Anaheim’s Arab enclave. It serves exactly three things: falafel, hummus and foul, each available as either a sandwich or a plate.
Out of habit, I held up the one-sheet menu and pointed to the things I wanted as I said them. The man, as if to confirm my choices, repeated my order.
I finished by asking for a Fanta.
“Take,” he said, motioning to the display case of bottled drinks.
As I grabbed one, he anticipated my need for a bottle opener and pointed to one lying on a counter next to the fridge. I popped the cap and found a seat at one of the four tables. The dining room was no bigger than the tiniest Subway, with the restroom about 10 feet from where I sat near the door.
The three men were just finishing up their meal when I noticed the large glass-pane window wobbling as though there were a strong wind. After glancing at the palm trees in the parking lot, I concluded there was hardly a breeze. Did the window wobble because it’s a replacement? Since no curb exists to separate the building from the parking lot, did a car accidentally back into the restaurant before? And was this the reason a protective white picket fence was recently installed out front?
These were questions I knew the man would be loath to answer. But even before I decided not to ask him, he arrived with the food, which required no further explanation. The three dishes represent the versatility of the chickpea and fava bean. It’s vegan without even trying.
The falafel was just as good, if not better, than the one I’ve had at Sahara Falafel just down the street. The crisply fried, craggy croquettes were lightly chopped, then tucked into the pocket of a pita with sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, cucumber, pickled turnips, smears of hummus and a white sauce. Bursting with so much freshness, contrasting textures and temperatures, it was the kind of sandwich that can convince you a vegan lifestyle is doable.
If the falafel doesn’t do it, the foul (pronounced “fool”) certainly will. It resembled bean dip, but it was served warm and submerged beneath a thin layer of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Traditionally eaten as breakfast in just about all the Arab countries, it’s served all day at F & H Shack and garnished with whole chickpeas and dollops of a spicy relish made from pickled jalapeños. Even if you choose not to use the basket of toasty pita bread for dipping, the foul is still filling. The accompanying bowl of tomato, cucumber and tart, pink, pickled turnips is more essential to the experience. You need it to balance the richness of the beans with something vibrant.
And, of course, there’s the hummus. It’s sculpted into cresting swirls with a well in the middle where olive oil pools and a small hill of whole chickpeas was garnished with parsley and sumac. Was it the epitome of hummus? It might well be. As thick and as smooth as clotted cream and heightened by the other ingredients, this was to Trader Joe’s hummus tubs what steak is to a hamburger.
As I paid for my meal, I told the man how much I enjoyed his food. He, by the way, didn’t ask.
Further attempting to fill the silence as he swiped my credit card I asked, “Did you make it all by yourself?”
“Yes,” he said, looking puzzled.
I realized he thought it was a silly question when it became obvious to both of us he was the only one there. I imagine if he weren’t cooking here, he’d do it in a street cart. And there would be lines down the block with no one asking if he made it all himself.
F & H Shack, 512 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 8, Anaheim, (714) 860-4266. Open daily, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. All dishes, $4.99.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.