Until a long-established Phoenician friend of ours from Jordan turned us on to it, we had no idea that one of the best Middle Eastern grocery stores in the Valley was right under our noses. Like a small, shimmering oasis, Baiz (pronounced "bays") Market appears out of nowhere, a nondescript white 1950s building in the middle of a quiet residential area between Van Buren and Jefferson streets, with painted signs in English humbly identifying it as a bakery, grocery and meat market. But enter its unobtrusive doors and you're greeted by bouncy Arabic pop music, row upon row of neat aisles overflowing with classic Middle Eastern cooking ingredients and prepared foodstuffs, and Al-Hana, a mini-restaurant/bakery/deli section centered on a wood-fueled oven. Al-Hana serves up, for both eat-in and takeout customers, a host of tempting treats like shish taook (grilled chicken with pickles and garlic) and soujouk (grilled sausage with pickles and tomato), but you have to try one of its freshly concocted bread pies in your choice of meat, cheese, thyme-and-tomato or vegetable, along with traditional sides like tabbouleh, fattoush and hummus. Trust us.
We quickly filled up an entire shopping cart with primo olive oils from Lebanon and Turkey, halvah with pistachios, Turkish Delight candy we haven't seen since Istanbul, grape leaves for making sarma, phyllo dough, kadaifi (a sort of hairy version of phyllo), and labne, a Lebanese cream-cheese-like spread made from yogurt that is irresistible when mixed with mint, sumac, parsley, salt and olive oil and slathered on fresh pita. The cheese and pastries sections alone are worth a trip to Baiz -- how many places offer French, Bulgarian, Greek and Danish feta, along with at least 10 different types of marinated olives? And for those of the Muslim persuasion, this is the place to get halal meats, poultry and other food prepared in accordance with Islamic din.