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It is not accessible to trace the roots of the Arabic association in Los Angeles, admitting it would assume adequately assertive that our bounded Middle Eastern association followed adequately abutting aloft the heels of the Arabic clearing into New York City.
According to Zelda Stern’s accomplished volume, “The Complete Guide to Ethnic New York,” New York’s Arab association goes aback to the 1870s, to the man accepted as the “Syrian Columbus.” His name was Moses David, and he’s believed to be the aboriginal Arab face in New York and conceivably in the accomplished United States.
The aboriginal absolute beachcomber of Arab clearing didn’t arise until the 1890s, back abounding Syrians, beat the Ottoman Empire, accustomed aboriginal in New York, and again fanned out beyond America. After Apple War II, bread-and-butter problems in Lebanon brought a additional abundant beachcomber of Syrians and Lebanese. They were followed in due time by a abiding crawl of Palestinians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Yemenis and Arabic-speaking Armenians from Lebanon.
While New York’s Arabic association is bedeviled by Syrians and Lebanese, anticipation from the restaurants actuality in Los Angeles (restaurants are consistently a acceptable barometer of population’s distribution) the association is fabricated up mostly of Lebanese and Armenians.
Though there is a scattering of restaurants adumbrative of the added genitalia of the Arabic world, the affairs are that back you eat in a Middle Eastern restaurant actuality in Los Angeles, the dishes will be either Lebanese or Armenian; and back the differences amid the two styles of affable may not be all that evident, they may seem, functionally, like the aforementioned cuisine.
After the foods of the Far East (the array of which is, for all due purposes, about endless), my admired comestible arena is the Middle East. It’s fun to watch as altered dishes canyon through the abounding cultural filters in the region, as blimp grape leaves, and things fabricated with garbanzo beans, change sometimes subtly, and sometimes radically as they cantankerous civic and linguistic borderlines.
Middle Eastern aliment may be abounding things, but arid is absolutely not one of them. I’ve continued believed that falafel would be nature’s best absolute food. But then, at our abounding Middle Eastern options, there’s hummus as able-bodied — which may be alike added perfect. And did I acknowledgment baba ghanoush? My addiction to Middle Eastern affable runs deep. And, fortunately, there are abounding options for deliciously agriculture those cravings — abnormally at these restaurants:
Café du Liban
19223 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; 818-705-3194, www.cafeduliban.com
There are acceptable choices all over the menu, including seven hummus dishes — an abnormally aged alertness of hummus that doesn’t lose the acidity of the garbanzo beans in the making, served plain, spicy, with ache nuts, with sautéed mushrooms, with chicken, with beef and with a topping of the fava bean dip alleged foul.
Indeed, mezze — baby dishes — boss the menu, as they generally do, authoritative this a grazer’s contentment and, thankfully, there’s a mezze platter, the veggie combo, of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and falafel — a greatest hits alternative of algid dishes.
There’s a greatest hits basin of entrees as well, the aggregate kabob, with a best of three skewers — the chicken, beef and beef kafta is a acceptable medley, served with abandon of admirable Middle Eastern rice (which is consistently added aged than annihilation I accomplish at home), forth with bulghur wheat, French chips and a best of soup or salad.
There’s a big area of the card committed to sandwiches, fabricated with pita, with the alike adulate flatbread alleged laffa, and on a French roll. The labneh laffa may be the abandoned yogurt sandwich I’ve anytime arise across, fabricated with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and olive oil, forth with the labneh. There’s a zaatar sandwich as well.
For vegetarians, there are few cuisines that do meatless as well. And yes, there’s baklava for ambrosia — forth with rice pudding, amber mousse, crème brulee, profiteroles and tiramisu. Tiramisu? Well, why not?
4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks; 818-784-3469, www.carnivalrest.com
There’s an appetizer admixture of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli and falafel, served, of course, with lots of balmy pita bread, a absolute appetizer for both the abecedarian and the native. There’s a broiled veggie basin (a absurd veggie basin as well), the vegetables flavored with olive oil and herbs, beautifully broiled — a admonition that this absolutely is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
One can dig into the sandwiches, of which there are nine — including a absurd beef and lamb pita burger, calmly one of the best burgers in town, flavored abundantly with parsley and onions. Does that alike appropriately calculation as a burger? (The Carnival Burger is topped with coleslaw, and served on a sesame bun, a archetypal burger, admitting a bit of an outlier on the menu.)
And then, there’s the Carnival Aggregate of chicken, lamb and arena kafta, charbroiled and served with rice or fries, added pita aliment and admirable pickled veggies. The desserts — including a abstract baklava, flavored with bootleg affected abstract — are not aloof homemade, but “Mamma’s Homemade”!
There’s additionally a pudding alleged ashtalia, a chrism of aureate ambrosia alleged namoura, and a broiled cheese ambrosia alleged knafeh. Are there added places like this in the SF Valley. The acknowledgment is…lots. But Carnival does angle high. It set an absorbing accepted for others to alive up to.
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Lusy’s Mediterranean Café & Grill
6357 Woodman Ave., Valley Glen; 818-997-4330, www.lusyscuisine.com
For starters, the appetizer aggregate alleged Lusy’s Trio is essential, whether for one, two or more. It’s a abreast absolute alternative of Lusy’s acutely appetizing hummus — alloyed with spices that accord it a reddish-pink afterglow — which has the best arrangement of any hummus I’ve eaten this ancillary of the amphitheater bazaar in Jerusalem. It’s not too salty, not too oily.
It’s a admonition that hummus, appropriately prepared, is a actual advantageous dish. Ditto the affably beefy tzatziki — a mix of yogurt, mint, garlic, cucumbers and more. And the baba ghanoush — about burnt eggplant mashed with garlic, acerb chrism and tahini.
Of advance it all comes with pita aliment — ambrosial abundant aggregate does. The falafel bites are mini falafel balls, brittle as could be. There are craven bill wraps too, which may or may not accept been adopted from the bill wraps begin at Chinese restaurants all over town. Which is not a point of criticism; I’m all in favor of card multiculturalism, as continued as it tastes good.
There’s a affluent borscht as well, topped with a affable atom of acerb cream, which is added an Eastern European basin than a Mediterranean one. But, like I’ve generally said, countries may apperceive borders, but foods don’t. Including the Greek bloom fabricated with lots of feta cheese, and the bootleg craven soup that’s aces of any cafeteria in town.
The ladies in the kitchen could apparently accomplish a accomplished quesadilla or fajita — they could apparently accomplish a accomplished anything. They abiding do accomplish one of the best tabouli salads I’ve anytime had. It’s the granddaddy of all chopped salads — a big accumulation (very big!) of bulghur wheat, mint, parsley, scallions and tomatoes. And one chaw of the craven shawarma and it’s bright this is a kitchen with a accomplished duke with herbs and spices; every chaw ambrosial able-bodied assault up on the old palate.
The broiled beef gyros are brittle and breakable at the aforementioned time. The kebabs — arena (as in lula) and beefy (as shish) are adjoin as acceptable as they get. If you can’t accomplish up your mind, there are abounding combos — Shish Kabab Lovers Combo, Lula Lovers Combo, Craven Lovers Combo, Beef Lovers Combo, Jumbo Kebab Plate. There are beyond platters — alleged “Group Meals” — that serve “five to seven.” There are pita wraps, for abate appetites. And for dessert, there’s baklava…and rice pudding “made with tender, admiring care…” Of advance there is.
10962 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-761-6565, www.manteecafe.com
The Craven Basin involves charbroiled craven kebabs with a dense, abundantly flavored garlic sauce, a abundance of rice, some of the best hummus in town, and a brace of absolute blimp grape leaves (sarma), arranged with rice and veggies.
The Kashkash Basin replaces the craven kebabs with ground, spiced beef. The Falafel Basin makes deep-fried atom assurance the capital accident — the aboriginal of four vegetarian plates amid the six. This is a actual veggie affable destination. Any restaurant that offers meatless wonders like moutabel (charbroiled eggplant with tahini, auto and garlic, and lentil kibbe (red lentils with sautéed onions and chopped tomato) shows a able account for the ability of the garden. And forth with the vegetable-stuffed grape leaves, there are vegetable blimp tiny bulb — dolma — topped with garlic yogurt booze and with aloof auto and olive oil. Ingredients that ascertain Armenian affable in a phrase.
I should acknowledgment that the hummus comes bristles agency — two authentic vegetarian, and three flavored with filet mignon or Armenian beef sausage. If you’ve consistently anticipation hummus was aloof hummus, you charge to booty a cruise to Mantee, area annihilation is absolutely as we’re acclimated to it being. Alike the tabbouleh — a joy of a atom bloom congenital about ashamed bulghur aureate isn’t absolutely what we’re acclimated to, with the bulghur abundant crunchier than most, a bigger grain, that you can’t ignore, for it absolutely complex a bit of chewing.
And I’m not abiding I’ve anytime encountered beef kebab flavored with a candied & acerb blooming sauce. It reminds me of the Romanian alertness of blimp banknote leaves, meat in a candied sauce. It may complete a bit over-the-top. It’s additionally actual adamantine to put bottomward your fork. This is a basin that approaches addictive.
11009 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-761-4656, www.hayats.kitchen
There’s a lot on the menu, some of which is familiar, some of which is abundantly Lebanese specific that it doesn’t arise on added Middle Eastern menus. Like the harusa, a basin of chopped filet mignon sautéed with tomatoes and onions. Or the lubie be zait — a mini-stew of blooming beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic and olive oil. Or the samke harra — charbroiled trout with a walnut, ache nut, cilantro and jalapeño sauce.
But hereabouts, we apperceive our hummus, and we apperceive our kabobs. And they’re done actual able-bodied at Hayat’s. Should you feel a bit overwhelmed, rejoice to acquisition that there’s a vegetarian admixture basin of hummus, the eggplant dip alleged baba ghanoush, tabouli salad, blimp grape leaves and falafel.
If you appetence to abide the admixture theme, there’s a alloyed barbecue of beef done two ways, and chicken, forth with tomatoes, peppers, garlic sauce, hummus, salad, chips or rice and the assured pita bread. There’s additionally a “Feast for Two” that ambrosial abundant combines the appetizer admixture with the alloyed grill.
You can, of course, additionally aces and accept from a lot of added dishes. I like hummus, a lot. And the hummus topped with sautéed beef is that abundant bigger — the best of at atomic two altered worlds. I accept a affection for kibbeh nayeh, which is about Lebanese steak tartare. Here, it’s alloyed with bulghur aureate and onions, and tastes as beginning as could be.
11146 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills; 818-368-4000, www.furnsaj.com
You can absolutely get the namesake saj aliment — and you should get the namesake saj aliment — topped with the old apple yogurt alleged labneh (very abundant not Yoplait!), with the abundantly spiced sausage alleged soujouk, with tomatoes and onions — alike with mortadella, mushrooms and cheese. Ah yes, with Nutella and bananas too.
But mostly, it comes with za’atar — by itself, giving the aliment a chapped texture, slathered with cheese flavored with za’atar, covered with za’atar with tomatoes and cucumbers and olives and mint. Saj is an age-old aliment — it looks and tastes like the actual aboriginal aliment — an asperous pizzaesque bread, affable on a domed metal battercake accepted as a, of course, saj. It’s a abreast accessory of an oven-baked flatbread alleged mana’ish, that’s additionally abundant with za’atar — which comes in a brace of dozen added forms — as the proto pizza alleged lahme b’ajine, as a appearance pie, with arena beef and a cosmos of vegetables and alike fruit.
The mana’ish sfiha shamiye is arena beef with pomegranates, molasses and tahini. You could absorb a ages activity through the abounding varieties. But then, there’s so abundant more.
Though one could calmly alive on saj and mana’ish alone, a nice sandwich (of advance on saj bread) is a acceptable affair too. The aliment is topped with tawouk (chicken breast), and with what’s a connected comestible regiment of garlic, French fries, pickles ketchup and mayo.
There’s arena beef kafta with hummus, soujouk, craven shawarma, beef shawarma, and as acceptable a falafel as you’ll acquisition this ancillary of the Mediterranean. There’s a French fry sandwich as well, with garlic, mayo, ketchup and pickles; it basically cuts to the chase, for those who appetence their carbs aerial with proteins.
There’s so abundant added on the menu, in this toy abundance for those with a acceptable appetite. There’s the accomplished eggplant dip alleged baba ghanoush, a parsley-heavy tabbouleh, a pita based fattoush salad, and nice beefy blimp grape leaves. There’s kebbeh (aka kibbeh), a celebration of arena meat coated with atom and deep-fried, a basin that’s as abundant an attraction as a defining preparation.
Look in the bottle cabinets abutting to the adverse (which is area you abode your order, and again delay for your name to be called), for there are party-sized mini-za’atar, mini-spinach, mini cheese, falafel pie and added — baby bites aloof appropriate for friends.
18970 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; 818-708-8986, www.restaurantji.com/ca/tarzana/mona-s-kitchen-/
Mona’s hits aerial addendum with ambrosial abundant every basin the small, abundantly accessible kitchen manages to crank out. Mona’s is an accomplished abode in which to get a basal apprenticeship in the comestible pleasures of the Middle East — abnormally because the prices are actual reasonable, abnormally because the allocation sizes.
Along with the hummus, you should absolutely opt for an adjustment of the baba ghanoush, a dip in which eggplants are broiled over an accessible flame, broiled really, and alloyed with garlic, tahini and auto abstract — like the hummus, irresistible.
I’m ambrosial abundant mad for the muhammara, an impossibly aged dip of ashamed walnuts and red pepper. If you’re of the cheese persuasion, try the labneh — spiced cheese, alloyed with onions, tomatoes, peppers and olive oil, the way all cheeses would be served, if they could be.
And fool that I am for raw meat (I know…I know…), kibbeh nayyeh is a treat, alloyed with absurd bulghur aureate and abounding herbs and spices. Ditto the kafta nayyeh and the Habra nayyeh. This is steak tartar heaven. And yes, they baker things too — best of the card in fact. They accomplish a falafel that’s about as brittle as a falafel can be, after axis into a hummus chip.
And of course, there are abundant kabobs, all the accepted suspects of advance — craven breast, marinated tenderloin, arena beef, craven shawarma, beef shawarma, lamb chops. There’s a vegan plate, of cauliflower, eggplant and French fries. Though, of course, best of the appetizers are vegan — or at atomic vegetarian.
And for those who can’t accomplish up their minds, there’s an appetizer combo, and a alloyed barbecue plate. Abundant options, back you appearance up with beneath than four persons, the minimum for the Deluxe Combo. But if you apperceive abundant acceptable eaters, by all means, go for it. What you don’t finish, will biking homed with ease. Hummus consistently tastes acceptable the abutting day — for breakfast, cafeteria or dinner.
6008 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-985-5701; 367 N. Chevy Hunt Drive, Glendale, 818-551-5540; https://www.restaurantji.com/ca/north-hollywood/skafs-grill-/
The card actuality is familiar, appealing, accessible to accord with — as continued as you don’t apperception an cutting bulk of aliment accession at your table. Certainly, as is so generally the case, a meal of annihilation but baby dishes — all mezze all the time! — is altogether satisfying. (And will still beat the table!)
I’ve eaten a lot of hummus in our hummus bedeviled boondocks — hummus apparently runs additional abandoned to guacamole back it comes to dips. And I’m not abiding I’ve had any as acceptable as the hummus at Skaf’s.
If a hummus is acceptable — as is accurate of a guacamole — again the blow of the aliment is apparently activity to acceptable too. And Skaf’s does not disappoint. The grape leaves are fat and chunky, aloof perfect, with a accomplished citrus undertone, and a lot of grape blade acidity — and yes, grape leaves, like Japanese shiso leaves, accept a actual characteristic flavor.
The baba ghanoush eggplant dip exudes begrimed goodness. And for those abysmal into the cuisine, the kibbeh nayyeh — about Lebanese beef tartare — is a abstruse pleasure, with abundant arrangement supplied by the mix-in of bulghur wheat. The kibbeh additionally comes deep-fried, and actual acceptable it is too. But raw…it’s a apple apart.
The mezze goes on — tabouli bloom and fattoush salad, banknote with tomatoes, which seems to arise as a ancillary basin with every entrée. And a accessory of tzatziki — a big basin of agreeable yogurt with cucumber, accomplished and garlic — so good, you’ll be larboard apprehensive why you bother with candied yogurt.
Of advance there’s falafel. The ambrosial potatoes accomplish French chips assume a decay of calories; the accursed cauliflower reminds you that cauliflower can be a joy, rather than an overcooked drudge. And if you’ve never had “foul,” do apperceive there’s annihilation abhorrent about Lebanese abhorrent — fava beans flavored with garlic, auto and olive oil, served with veggies on the side. (The hummus is served with abhorrent as an option, and with mushrooms, acceptance you to about-face hummus into an entrée. And why not?)
And speaking of entrees, there are 15 of them — kebabs of lamb, beef, craven and (unexpectedly) shrimp. The craven shawarma basin is ambrosial abundant an capital plate, with the beef shawarma bitter at its heels; that there could be that abundant acidity in some brittle meat dazzles the senses.
More admirable options
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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