Off Broadway in Santa Maria stands a Mediterranean paradise with the fluffiest falafel you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
Tucked away off the main streets of Santa Maria lies this hidden gem – The Garden Mediterranean Restaurant & Cafe. Serving up Mediterranean classics like falafel, kofta, and tabbouleh, The Garden is definitely worth a visit!
The outdoor dining is spacious and comfortable. The staff incredibly warm and friendly, and seemingly as enthusiastic about The Garden’s tasty offerings as we were.
We started off with the Spicy Fries. Smothered in a mixture of spicy house sauce, garlic, and cilantro, these fries pack a punch! Served hot and fresh, a great appetizer for any spicy-lover.
Next on the menu, an item listed under The Garden Homemade Bakery section simply titled “Cheese”. Using housemade bread, topped with a Mediterannead cheese, this appetizer was reminiscent of a pizza. Instead of cheese sprinkled on top before baking, it seemed the cheese was added to the dough, and the crust folded over and formed around it.
The result: a beautiful cheese boat! Though this may look like a kind of pizza, the dough was soft and incredibly fluffy, without any crunch of a crust like you’d find on a pizza.
Judging by these two appetizers, I’d say select something that sounds intriguing to you, that caters to your specific tastes (like say, you like spicy or cheese) and order your appetizers based on that alone. You may have never tried anything like what you’ll get, but based on this experience, I’m going to bet you’ll love it.
Entree highlights include the kebabs: chicken; beef; and kofta – a traditional kebab made of seasoned ground beef. The kebab plates are plentiful, and of the four of us that had dinner, no one was able to clear their plate (not for lack of trying).
The rice rich with saffron, peppers perfectly charred — the details in the meals were immaculate. The tahini sauce provided a nice compliment, but the real star of the sauces was that incredible garlic sauce tied so deeply into Mediterranean cuisine. Have it with the kebab, the rice, some pita, on the fries, really anything. I’d by it by the pound if I could.
Vegetarians rejoice! There’s options for you at The Garden too. I had the Vegetarian platter (first photo in post) so I could sample all my favorites of Mediterranean cooking — tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, hummus, warak enab, falafel, and pita. I also requested a side of that delectable garlic sauce for my meal which they accommodated graciously. If you aren’t familiar with Mediterranean cuisine, here’s a quick description of everything that came on the Vegetarian Combo Plate:
Salad of finely chopped parsley, crushed bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, and spices, mixed in fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
TASTING NOTES: If you like greek salad, try tabbouleh. It’s got a great zesty kick and powerful freshness to each bite.
Smoky roasted eggplant pureed and blended with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
TASTING NOTES: A very basic description of baba ghanoush is like a hummus with roasted eggplant. It’s got a stronger flavor and smoother texture than typical hummus. Eat it with pita!
Puree of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with tahini, garlic, lemon and extra virgin olive oil.
TASTING NOTES: Most of us have eaten hummus by now, but this one deserves a bit of extra credit because The Garden hummus was just so creamy. If you aren’t a hummus fan, I’d recommend you try this one. It may change your mind!
Grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices. Served cold.
TASTING NOTES: Warak Enab is a Lebanese-style stuffed grape leaf — different than the Greek-style that’s served hot and filled with ground beef. Instead, Warak Enab is vegetarian-friendly and taste great with that tahini sauce.
Fresh garbanzo beans mixed with spices, ground, formed into balls and fried.
TASTING NOTES: Falafel is a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine. Typically crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, it’s delicious and filling!
A special note about The Garden’s falafel: They are, without a doubt, the fluffiest falafel I’ve ever had. Sometimes falafel can be more dense on the inside, but still maintain that crunchy exterior. These falafel were different. With the perfect golden brown crust and as light and fluffy as can be on the inside. Perfection.
All in all, I can see why The Garden maintains its 5-star rating. It’s friendly staff and consistently tasty food make it a great place to eat, enjoy, and try new things.