Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant Saha celebrates Downtown Berkeley opening

Micah Carroll/Staff

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Saha, a new Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant on Shattuck Avenue that filled the vacancy left by Herbivore, celebrated its opening at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

Several city officials, including Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Kirsten MacDonald, the co-CEO of the city Chamber of Commerce, and John Caner, the CEO of Downtown Berkeley Association, were present at the ceremony to welcome the new restaurant into the city. Attendees were treated to some of what the restaurant will offer, such as lamb meatballs, stuffed vegan beets and its selection of wines.

“(The ceremony) is something that happens when we have a new business,” said Gregory Magofña, the senior aide to the office of the mayor.This is a way to show support.”

According to Magofña, such support is important to the mayor because of his desire to revitalize the Downtown area as part of the Downtown Area Plan.

“We’re witnessing a time period when businesses are opening up simultaneously,” MacDonald said. “They’re going to create a vibe in South Berkeley to eat, dine and socialize.”

In the same vein, Caner was optimistic about the future of the restaurant and felt the new restaurant could offer the people in the Downtown a high-end dining experience.

Marmee Manack, Saha’s general manager and wine director, said they had decided to move the successful restaurant from San Francisco to Berkeley because they felt their previous location left them less visible to potential customers.

“This is like a 360-degree turn,” she said. “We’re now completely exposed. It’s really exciting.”

But while the location has changed, Manack said the restaurant’s commitment to good food will stay the same. According to her, everything on the menu — half of which is vegan — is carefully selected to ensure organic ingredients that come from sustainable sources.

“We just feel the food that he does fits well into the consciousness of Berkeley,” Manack said, commending the restaurant’s owner and chef, Mohamed Aboghanem. “He’s been conscious of how he makes food.”

Aboghanem said the menu’s vegan sensibilities were inspired by the food he ate growing up. But more than simply offering vegan dishes, he hopes to bring a different type of food to the area in order to introduce the city to what Middle Eastern cuisine can offer.

“A lot of people think it’s just falafel and hummus,” he said. “But it’s a lot more than that.”

Petra Varkonyi, a third-year UC Berkeley student from Hungary, and Brianna Rogers, another third-year student and a commissioner for the city Planning Commission, both complimented the food for its “innovative” taste.

“It seems like it’s more exciting flavors coming together,” Varkonyi said after trying the food. “I’ll come back with my dad.”


Contact Michael Lee at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @_HyunkyuL.