Veggie Mazza bowl from Jaffa at the Maine Mall in South Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It’s not that I have anything against going to the Maine Mall, but it’s also not something that conjures up much in the way of excitement.

Newbury Comics is always fun though, and I do secretly get a kick out of Hot Topic despite being a thousand years out of its age demographic.

However I’ve recently discovered a specific reason to intentionally head to the mall, and it’s Jaffa Mediterranean Grill.

No longer relegated to the mall’s food court, where it was called Gyro Express, the fast-casual eatery moved six months ago into adjacent digs, still inside the mall building but with its own entrance.

Every time I eat Mediterranean food I finish the meal wondering why I don’t eat it more regularly because it’s right up there with Mexican and Italian as my favorite types of cuisine.

Jaffa Mediterranean Grill does it right, and I for sure will be working my way through the mouth-watering menu, which pulled me in many directions as I adoringly eyed items like the classic chicken shawarma pita, the fattoush salad and especially the Meat Mazza Bowl (chicken shawarma, gyro meat, basmati rice, lettuce, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pickles, spicy potato and tzatziki, garlic and dakkous sauces).


But then my eyes landed on the magic words falafel and baba ghanoush, and the decision all but made itself.

The Veggie Mazza Bowl ($11.98) is a divine offering of basmati rice, falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, lettuce, chickpeas, pickles, banana peppers, grape leaves and tahini sauce.

For $1.75, I added a side of warm pita bread which ended up being the perfect supplement to my lunch.

Turns out, they were out of grape leaves on that particular day, which honestly suited me fine since I’m not a huge fan. To make up for it, the person waiting on me offered me a choice of substitutions, so I went with black olives and was treated to a generous amount.

The ingredients for the various dishes are displayed along the counter where you order, like at Chipotle, making it easy to pick and choose if you want to build your own bowl or pita. And though I took my lunch to go, there are tables inside the bright, comfortable-looking space, if you want to eat there.

Everything tasted fresh and flavorful, and the baba ghanoush (finely chopped roasted eggplant, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini and seasonings) was out of this world. Also, I’ve never met a falafel patty I didn’t love, and the ones from Jaffa did not disappoint.

Now don’t die of shock, but for once I didn’t inhale my lunch. Instead, I managed to show restraint and slowly savored the kaleidoscope of flavors that danced around my taste buds. It will be hard to order anything else because this was so delicious.

Don’t think for a minute that I didn’t wink at the baklava, however I’m still navigating life without sugar, so I abstained. But trust me, it looked sublime.

I officially consider Jaffa Mediterranean Grill a destination location restaurant, and if I accidentally slip into Newbury Comics and Hot Topic while I’m there for some impulse purchases, so be it!

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