.Zaytoon Celebrates Palestinian Roots

Mediterranean restaurant in Albany expands idea of what Middle Eastern dining can be

In 2016, Zaytoon Restaurant opened to expand people’s conception of what Middle Eastern dining can be. In the years since, the tastefully decorated Albany mainstay has achieved much more than just delicious plates. It is a display of Palestinian-American excellence.

Always looking to expand minds, the restaurant recently launched a brunch service. Similar to the decision to serve craft cocktails in a Mediterranean restaurant, adding brunch is a step in the long journey to proving that food from the Levant, along the east Mediterranean and the Middle East could be as successful as other cuisines more familiar to East Bay diners.

Co-owners Izat Eliyan and chef Haithem Salman were both born in Jerusalem.

Eliyan came to the States in 1987 at the age of 18. “[In those years in Jerusalem,] I spent a lot of time with my family in the olive orchard where we shared laughter, stories and meals that were seasoned with the love and warmth of our Palestinian heritage. It’s these cherished memories that inspired me to bring a taste of my childhood to the East Bay,” he said.

The name “Zaytoon” means “olive” in Arabic, and symbolizes peace and home.

Zaytoon is “a celebration of my roots and a homage to the rich flavors that define Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine,” Eliyan said. “Through our dishes, we hope to offer a glimpse into the soul of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Greece, as well as the myriad of countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. Our menu celebrates the bustling streets of Jerusalem and lively conversations around the family table.

“We are honored to have been welcomed into the East Bay for the last eight years. The community has been very welcoming and supportive, and they’ve embraced our culture and cuisine,” Eliyan added. “I am proud of my heritage and enjoy sharing our delicious food with the community.”

Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan, Turkish and Greek plates influence menu items at Zaytoon—and there is a lot of overlap.

“Like moussaka,” said Salman. “We have it back home, the same but different.” It is a national dish in Greece that was later adapted across the region.

With any national dish or comfort food, there’s never only one way to make it. Each family and household has its own twist, its own secret ingredient. Zaytoon takes that approach to the next logical step, incorporating the palate of local patrons by representing the broad mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ethnic groups found right in the East Bay. Before all else, Eliyan and Salman want Americans with Middle Eastern backgrounds to come enjoy comfort food of the highest standard.

“We’ve made it as we learned from our mom,” Salman said.

Family, community, culture—these have not always been readily available to Americans whose families come from that often-tumultuous part of the world. While many nationalities immigrate to America, people from these cultures are not always accepted in white-dominated spaces in this country.

“Coming out of the period of 9/11, you know, was harder for people from that part of the world,” said Eliyan, whose children were picked on in school at the time. “That wasn’t an easy time on us, but you know, [then] people started getting interested in the Middle East.”

And now again, “being a Palestinian, with what’s happening in the Middle East and especially in Gaza, I feel that it is very, very, very, very difficult. And it’s in our psyche, you know?” Eliyan added. “It’s in your mind all the time.

“As a Palestinian, I grew up in Jerusalem. I lived my youth over there, and I feel that a lot is lost right now in terms of human rights,” he continued. “What about the human rights of 2.2 million starving people in Gaza? It’s not about one side or another, just about humans. So it is difficult for us right now.”

That is part of Zaytoon’s mission, to repaint the picture of the Palestinian people as sophisticated citizens of the world and to show how their culture has mixed with other peoples of the Mediterranean over the millennia.

Contrary to the image of war and death associated with Middle Eastern cultures and especially the Palestinians, said Eliyan, “we do want to be successful. We want to create things. We want to send our kids to schools. We want them to become lawyers and doctors and writers, and live a normal life.”

This team of Palestinian investors, owners and a chef came together to create an experience of the American dream through the greatest medium of all, food.


Zaytoon, 1133 Solano Ave., Albany. Open every day except Monday, from 11:30am to 9pm. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 2:30pm. zaytoon510.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. i took a friend there for lunch last week and she was blown away. not only is the food delicious but plentiful as well. the flavors are so fresh, clean and complex. their food presentation/plating is beautiful. the service is friendly and efficient. the decor of the restaurant is creatively elegant. its so wonderful to have place to take folks and know they will be wowed.

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