At Petaluma’s Urban Deli, an eclectic mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Mexican fare
Urban Deli has added a great Eastern Mediterranean (and Mexican) dining option to Petaluma’s downtown restaurant scene, and has quickly become this food writer go-to spot for a quick and delicious bite between work meetings. But this is much more than just a lunchtime diner.
Located in the old Subway sandwich shop in the Theatre District, 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Suite 109, the restaurant could have been relegated to just your run-of-the-mill deli. We have been pleasantly surprised to find a diverse menu filled with incredible flavors, served up by a local family with an interesting story of their own.
Urban Deli is owned and operated by Sam and Marla Qudsieh, both of whom you will find behind the counter cooking and serving up an eclectic menu of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Mexican dishes, all connected to each of their home cultures.
Mexico, Mediterranean and the Middle East
Sam came to the U.S. from Palestine in the early 2000s to join his sister, who owns Julie’s Hummus Bar & Grill in Marin with her husband. However, Sam tells me his family back in the Eastern Mediterranean have always owned and operated restaurants, so he has been cooking since he was a child and loves to mix the flavors from all the different sides of the family.
Marla originally comes from Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico a couple hundred miles northwest of Mexico City and about an equal distance east of Guadalajara. Her family, too, has had restaurants for generations, with her mother’s current eatery back home being the most popular in town, often sporting lines of eager waiting customers.
Marla and Sam met while dining separately with friends at a Celia’s Mexican restaurant in Marin.
“He sent a drink to my table, a margarita, I think,” Marla tells me, with a touch of blush. “That was 12 years ago, and we have been together ever since.”
Marla and Sam now have three children, a 7-year-old who attends St. Vincent’s here in Petaluma, a 4-year-old and the baby, a 4-month-old.
For those looking for the “deli” experience, Urban Deli certainly has you covered with a lot of great sandwiches, plus plenty of sides and side salads and desserts to finish things out. So, we will start there, before moving on to the ethnic food choices that have had us returning regularly since first trying them out a few weeks ago.
For those in your lunch group who are squeamish about diving into the deep end and want to start with a more familiar sandwich order, Urban Deli has some great option. For cold sandwiches, they have French roasted ham, grilled chicken, club, chipotle Mexican tuna (with cucumbers and pickles) and even a grilled eggplant sandwich with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, spinach and pesto. However, the sandwich that seems to run out first is the fresh roasted turkey, with Swiss and pesto. Sam roasts two turkeys fresh each day for this sandwich and is thinking of roasting even more if the sandwich keeps selling out so quickly.
In the warm sandwich department, Sam also offers a warm turkey sandwich, topped with Swiss, pickles and cranberry sauce, a clear Thanksgiving nod. He also has a respectable Reuben, a Mexican torta and Cubano, which is a holdover from when Sam owned and operated Mikey’s American/Cuban restaurant in San Rafael in the early 2010’s.
Although we appreciate a good deli sandwich as much as the next person, upon our first visit to Urban Deli, we were immediately drawn to the international selection of wraps and soft tacos. Unlike many other Eastern Mediterranean restaurants, Urban Deli offers a wide area of choices across the region. This is thanks to Sam being from Palestine, as well as having Greek and Italian heritage. His wraps include shawarma, falafel, gyro and kabob. The menu then wraps up two interesting soft taco choices – Greek chicken tacos (served with tzatziki, Mediterranean salsa and feta cheese) or chicken tacos (served with sumac and onions.) We have had both and loved them equally.
The Mediterranean main plates menu loosely mirrors the Mediterranean sandwich menu, although Sam runs regular specials, including a Friday and Saturday night dinner special, which recently included a chicken shawarma bowl and a shrimp kabob wrap with soup or salad. The normal dinner menu has chicken kabob, beef kafta and chicken shawarma plates (served with rice, salad, hummus and pita bread), as well as a Mediterranean sample plate that is as appetizing as it is attractive, with hummus, falafel, olives, tabouli, dolmas and pita bread. As an aside, Sam’s basmati rice is perfectly cooked and seasoned.