I WAS SITTING in my car, crying onto my knees because I didn't have a new restaurant to review. The keys hung slack in the ignition; rain washed down the windshield, but I could not see it. It was six in the morning.
Suddenly—as is the manner in which actions so often transpire in cheap stories—my phone buzzed on the seat next to me. A text flashed across the screen: It was Ben, and lo, he wanted to know if I'd tried a new gyro and falafel place. "Most legit gyro in town by no small margin," it read. I don't take his recommendations lightly—this is a guy with such excruciating culinary standards that he will not let himself learn to bake, for fear that its complexities would consume and destroy him.
That very afternoon I secured myself away inside Cedo's Falafel and Gyros, which recently took over the old Wayne's Chicago Red Hots space on the steadily improving stretch of MLK just north of Fremont. It was after their busy lunch rush, so I had the owners to myself, and when not harried by the droves of customers who have already discovered this place, they are every bit the hospitable and charming Southerners they claim to be. (The sweetness of their teas—pure, strong sage, and thick orange—supports this bit of backstory.) They moved here to be closer to their son, the woman tells me, when I ask one of my favorite questions ("Why Portland?"). The husband, who, despite his cheery disposition, looks capable of tearing refrigerators in half, prepares baskets heavy with fresh, vibrant food.
First in the offing is the doner gyro sandwich. Unlike most of the joyless versions around town, this bountiful item overflows with juicy, springy, thick sliced and well-seasoned beef and lamb meat. It is dressed with wedges of tomato, lettuce, and a tangy tzatziki applied with such generosity that approaching the item seated is the wise course of action. Warm, grilled pita holds the moist payload securely to the end, which is impressive given the amount of time needed to eat it. Happily, the meat is nearly greaseless.
The falafel balls are crisp and fragrant, and into their mix of garbanzo beans, parsley, and garlic, Cedo's adds finely minced jalapeños, though the benefit of this is not noticeable spice but rather fuller flavor—it is nothing for the spice-wary to fear. Crisp and fried to order, the falafel are then dressed with the same ingredients as the gyro; the sandwich is as formidable as its meat-heavy counterpart. A second vegetarian sandwich of dolma (the menu lists these as "grape leaves"—their house-made version is filled with rice, tomatoes, parsley, and spices) and a generous slather of hummus—is a creamy and flavorful combination I haven't seen elsewhere. Residual sweet tomato sauce from the braising of the leaves enriches the taste, though after a bit it seems to want a crunchy element against which to chew the filling.
It would be a bit much to devote an entire column to a place with four mains on the menu (there is also a tabbouleh-hummus sandwich), but these items are so superior to the procession of letdowns I've had in this cuisine recently, they deserve mention. Further justifying this installment is the utter quality of the traditional appetizers. Cedo's hummus, baba ghanoush, ful medames, and fried potatoes are individually perfected examples of these simple recipes, and are resoundingly delicious. Gold-standard hummus, roundly praised by the spread's surprisingly vocal devotees, is thick and creamy, with tahini and lemon in perfect balance. The eggplant of the baba ghanoush is pureed, salty, and slightly smoky, making it a rich, nearly meaty pleasure. Warm ful medames, a less-common but well-known side, is not unlike refried beans made with favas, lemon juice, and, again, imperceptibly spicy but flavorful jalapeños. Surprisingly fruity extra-virgin olive oil is liberally drizzled over each of these preparations, which as a trio ($9 with pita, but order extra bread) make an excellent plate for sharing. Lastly, the seasoned potatoes—expertly fried twice for a steamy, light interior and golden, crunchy crust—are a wonderful surprise after years of eating the wrinkled jojo stodge of lesser establishments.
In terms of overall value for money, quality, and flavor, Cedo's is a yardstick against which all similar offerings can be fairly measured. Whether you're distraught over your career prospects or simply in the market for an excellent and affordable lunch, their Middle Eastern fare is a solid bet.
Sandwiches $7, appetizers $5, sides $4-6, plate meals $9. Deservedly crowded at peak mealtimes; expect a wait of 10 minutes and competition for a table, or opt for take-out. Limited beer and wine available.