The illustration of a bright yellow lemon slice adorns the sign above Tahina, a new tenant in the Alameda Marketplace. Rumtin Rahmani opened this “fresh Mediterranean” takeout spot less than two months ago with his sister Talayeh Rahmani and his girlfriend Rochelle Nasab. On my first visit, the woman in front of me announced she was a returning customer. I could hear the anticipation in her voice when she picked up her lunch order. Rahmani has read the Marketplace room right.
That particular corner, where Tahina now resides, has struggled to keep a business in place since 2013, when East End moved its pizza oven next door. From its redesigned interior to the food itself, Rahmani and his partners clearly broke that unfortunate spell of undercooked concepts. Tahina buzzes with activity on both sides of the counter. Cashiers take and bag orders, or pull cold drinks—from the Moroccan mint tea to the pomegranate lemonade coolers. Prep cooks assemble falafel pitas, chicken shawarma and mezze plates, while people in line hungrily stare at the bags of goodies being handed out.
“We’re not trying to do anything too fancy,” Rahmani says. “We just want to keep it simple and tasty—healthy, California-inspired food.” That’s how Tahina differs, ever so slightly, from other Mediterranean restaurants. Their falafel is a vivid, dark-green color on the inside, insistently herb-forward. Rahmani said that when they put the menu together, it was crucial that the falafel shouldn’t be dry. “One of the keys to doing that was to use fresh herbs like parsley,” he says. Tahina also makes the entire falafel mix from scratch. Because eating a falafel sandwich can be problematic when the pouch of pita bread is parched and papery, Tahina wisely sources its pillowy pitas from a Sacramento bakery. This thoughtful decision makes their version a standout.
“The beauty of being able to use the word ‘Mediterranean,’” Rahmani says, “is to be able to offer tastes and flavors from so many different countries—Greece, Lebanon, Turkey.” Rahmani and his sister were born in California, but their parents are from Iran. “We make saffron rice and some of our marinades are Persian-inspired,” he says. “I wanted to focus on and compile what I felt was the best of everything.” The California twist comes through when they add avocado to a bowl of quinoa tabouli or a delicious side dish like cilantro hummus.
Tahina is Rahmani’s first food-only restaurant. For the past 16 years, he’s owned a family-run business called The Beanery, a coffee shop in another corner of the Alameda Marketplace. “I started introducing a few Mediterranean items over the years, testing them out,” he says. When customers responded favorably to the dishes, Rahmani felt confident enough to pursue Tahina separately. A self-taught chef and self-declared foodie, he’s cooked at home for many years for his friends and family.
Rahmani admits that his landlord warned him that the space has “had difficulties over the years.” But he had a vision for the space, “to bring it back to life.” He also points out that because Marketplace stalwarts East End and Feel Good Bakery both expanded from the exact same area, “I knew there was potential.”
Tahina has also stepped in to correct a longstanding omission from the various shops and storefronts. Baron’s Quality Meats & Seafood is an excellent resource for pork chops, beef and fish. Elephantine-sized bowls of salad can be had at Greens & Grains. And Feel Good Bakery’s bread loaves and pastries do, in fact, make you feel good. Ice cream, however, has never made it to the party. Rahmani corrected that appalling oversight with the addition of a frozen yogurt machine. “We felt the Greek frozen yogurt was appropriate because it has probiotics,” he says. They use the same yogurt for their savory-sauce work. With flavors like honey, sour cherry and baklava crumble, Rahmani’s pleased with the “amazing” response to the yogurt, and to the food.
“I’m thankful to be in this Alameda community,” he says. “Having been at The Beanery for so long, and to see people being happy that we’re here, I wake up feeling blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”