[Photograph: Lindsey Becker]

Surprise is an underrated aspect of eating. An unexpected perk at an eatery—tiny mignardises at a casual restaurant or even just a sample of the flavor of the month at an ice cream shop—can make the difference between a one-time visit and becoming a regular. Nini's Deli in Noble Square presents an immediate surprise upon walking in: one look at the shelves and you realize it's a gourmet and organic grocery store masquerading as a run-of-the-mill corner deli. If it weren't for the Silk soy milk and gluten-free bread, the atmosphere and superior customer service at this mom-and-pop operation would make you think you stepped back in time to your great-grandparents' favorite neighborhood store.

The menu presents even more surprises, as you'll find a mix of American, Cuban, and Middle Eastern, which is a direct reflection the nationalities of the owners. Jose's Homemade Falafel Pita ($5.50) looks pretty standard, but the freshly fried falafel have a slightly different, though no less pleasing, spice profile. There's a touch less parsley, more heat, and a more pronounced nuttiness thanks to the sesame seeds. The tabbouleh is more than just decoration; not only does it add a little needed moisture, but the celery adds a fresh crunch. If you get your pita to go, you might also find yourself walking out with a freshly fried nugget of falafel wrapped in a bit of paper, "So you don't have to wait till you get home."

Nini's Deli

543 N Noble St, Chicago 60642 (map)

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