This Review article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
It’s been said that food is the ingredient that binds us together, and in a dimly-lit restaurant on the corner of Dundas and Ossington, I found this to be true.
The Haifa Room has a warm and inviting atmosphere with unmatched hospitality. As an Israeli who has made the trip to the Middle East several times, The Haifa Room was an opportunity to reconnect with an authentic cultural experience right here in the city — like a homecoming of sorts for me — something I’d been longing for in the absence of travel during the pandemic.
With roots from Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, friends turned collaborators Waseem Dabdoub, Joseph Eastwood, and Fadi Hakim have brought to life a vision that unites on all fronts with The Haifa Room.
The restaurant’s name is derived from the city of Haifa, a region in the Middle East where Israelis and Palestinians manage to coexist. While at the restaurant, I had the privilege of chatting with the down-to-earth Waseem, who seems to have brought that concept of coexistence to the heart of his own Trinity-Bellwoods community. He said he’s lived in the area for 12 years and had his eyes set on this bustling corner ever since.
What began as a takeout window to serve the public during the pandemic has now become a cozy space with a classic contemporary design that honours the restaurant’s roots. The interior is dressed with vintage Middle Eastern clippings hanging on rustic walls, and although the space has a retro feel, it’s balanced with modern elements that work perfectly together. I saw this as a subtle reference to honouring the past while effectively progressing forward, much like my hope for the unity between Israelis and Palestinians.
The marriage of cultures is represented in the alluring menu, written in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Waseem’s homegrown concept of an “elevated falafel” is the restaurant’s staple item, and it doesn’t disappoint. At $8, it’s an introductory item recommended for all. Having dabbled in many takes on the famous falafel dish, I can vouch for its authenticity.
When asked about a “must-try” menu item, Waseem said: “Our chef raves that we have the best hummus in the city. He swears by it!” I’m a self-proclaimed dip connoisseur who could certainly attest to that. The $9 aromatic shareable was topped with chickpeas, za’atar, and enjoyed with grilled pita bread.
It was then time to dabble in a main dish, and what better choice than the colourfully presented boneless lamb shoulder? It paired beautifully with the accompanying sumac yogurt and melts right in your mouth. The main course is available for $31.
The meal was topped off with a “knafe” dessert, a delicate, flaky pastry that includes ricotta, saffron and lemon curd, which anybody who visits must save some room for. At $10, it’s a must-try piece of the dining experience.
My time at The Haifa Room opened my eyes to the possibilities of what uniting forces can bring to both the Middle East and the dining table. Despite a history of conflict between neighbours, the culinary partners were able to celebrate their commonalities through a multi-language menu, and a marriage of ingredients likely perfected through countless tastings together.
What started as an idea over patio drinks has taken on a new meaning — Israelis and Palestinians working together to achieve a common vision.
As an Israeli, my experience at the restaurant gave me a renewed sense of optimism for the future on a small scale, coming in the form of a cozy corner restaurant with chill vibes and great food.
While a collaborative falafel recipe certainly doesn’t dismiss unsolved grievances or larger military conflicts, it’s encouraging to see a glimpse of common ground within the larger narrative that shows we’re all stronger together than apart.