2923 Penn Ave., Strip District
Abdullah Salem's motto at his family's business is simple yet wide-reaching: "We're the closest thing to back home, no matter where you're from."
His family recently expanded their halal meat and grocery store in Oakland to Penn Avenue in the Strip District, opening the restaurant side of Salem's Market and Grill in January. In June, they anticipate opening a meat store next door.
The Salems and their "old-style butcher shop" are known for their halal meats, catering to the Muslim and kosher market. The locally raised animals are slaughtered halal, meaning they are killed with one knife stroke, one at a time and away from each other, under religious guidelines. The method leaves no blood in the meat.
"The treatment of animals is the most important thing. We believe the most humane way for being slaughtered is halal," Salem explains. "The meat comes better and the animal doesn't even know it's cut."
At Salem's, the meat is also never frozen: "We take meat off bones. It's as fresh and high quality as you're gonna get," Salem says.
The Salems, who hail from Libya, offer a menu of mostly Mediterranean selections at their grill: lamb and goat curries, gyros, lentil soup and spanokopita are among the offerings. I had a gryo, which was packed with roasted lamb, lettuce, tomatoes and onions, garnished with just enough sweetly mellow sour cream-cucumber sauce. The grill is a meat-lover's paradise: Chicken, lamb and goat are available in almost any application, including shish kabob, roasted, barbecued or shawarma (off the spit). There are plenty of vegetarian options too, like homemade falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush.
Salem's has dessert-lovers fixed, too, with treats such as little milk-and-dough balls called galub jamun, and namoura, a small bar of honey and coconut, drizzled with Salem's house-made candy syrup. If you're really jonesing for something sugary, try what looks like candied funnel cake -- it has the starchiness of the carnival favorite but with a crunchy twist.
The front of the restaurant is a large, inviting seating area. The food counter -- where diners order -- is in the back, and staffed by friendly employees. Prices are low: Most meals are around $7, and come with basmati rice and salad. Above all, Salem explains, he just wants people to feel welcome.
"When people come into our store, you see white, black, brown, everybody sitting together. Nobody's stiff," Salem says. "We're just normal people. We don't try to make it fancy."