best middle eastern restaurants in LA - one list; add some more
I'm Israeli and a foodie - enough said, right?
Probably my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in LA, especially for the money, is Carnival in Sherman Oaks.
4356 Woodman Ave (North of Ventura Blvd)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423-3031
This is a Lebanese place and is totally mobbed by a nice, healthy, politically inspiring mixture of Arabs, Armenians & Israelis at all times. But it's pretty large and you don't usually have to wait for very long, although the service (as in most Middle Eastern places) is pretty bad. You get used to it though. And it's cheap, especially if you go with a group and share stuff.
Here's what to get: The lamb and beef kabobs - they come with delicious fries and Middle Eastern salad, although this salad inexplicably has lettuce in it, making it necessary to order fattoush - which is delicious Arabic salad with sumac and toasted pita bread croutons. The standard mezze platter is excellent, with great hummus, great tabouli. The grilled vegetable platter is great. The Tuesday special is lamb shank - delicious. The Wednesday special is baked kefta in tomato sauce - also yummy. The kubbe - bulgur fried dumplings stuffed with meat and pine nuts - are to die for, both with the yogurt or tehine that comes with them (but ask for chopped parsley to put in your tehine, which for some reason arrives naked). The hummus with meat is real good too, as is the shwarma. And the grape leaves are excellent.
I've tried the labne (yogurt cheese-dip) - not so good here, and the specials on Monday (maluchia) and Friday (stuffed chicken) aren't very good. Don't remember the Thursday special.
304 N Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203
5112 Hollywood Blvd around Normandie. 323-660-8060.
I've only been to the Hollywood location, which is in a strip mall in the middle of Thai town. Delicious Lebanese-Armenian food. I had lamb kabobs with yogurt sauce, which were great. Also had terrific fattoush and some great mezze, like a warm vegetarian moussaka. This was however a bit pricey, and they don't have a good cheap mezze platter - I think it's something like $25 per person with a 2-person minimum. No fair, especially since the mezze looked really great. This is also in a strip mall with zero atmosphere, but I don't really care when it comes to Middle Eastern food.
8566 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035-2410
Mmmmmm... Yemeni-Israeli food just like my grandmother used to make. The things to avoid here are the meat entree dishes. They aren't so wonderful (you can get much better kabobs at Carnival, Carousel or Marouch) and come with soggy overcooked vegetables. But it is very easy to get stuffed here on the SOUPS (esp the white bean, the Yemeni beef, & the lentil) which are huge and delicious, the MEZZE (the combo platter comes with about 10 of them, probably half of which are eggplant variations - all delicious), the Iraqi Sandwich (Fried eggplant, tehine, long-cooked hard-boiled egg, and tomato - MMMMMM), the Salufa (Yemeni fried bread, similar to Naan - usually they only have it on the weekends, but you should order yours ahead - the Iraqi Sandwich on Salufa is great), the Israeli Salad (don't let them pad yours with filler lettuce!) and the Mellawach with toppings (yet another kind of Yemeni fried bread, greasier than Salufa). Make sure to ask for zchug on the side - Yemeni hot sauce, pronounced z'khoog.
YUM. Also they have pickled beets which I LOVE. And their breakfasts are great, if you like Israeli breakfasts - ie shakshuka (sunny-side-up eggs in a pepper & tomato sauce), ful medames (fava beans), Israeli salad, etc. They also have hilbeh, which is a sauce made of fenugreek that you are supposed to eat with bread. It is supposedly responsible for the extremely low rate of heart disease among Yemenis, because it lowers cholesterol. However, I think it's disgusting, despite the multiple attempts by my father to make me like it.
Oh yes and they also have Mellawach, a kind of Yemeni fried bread with all kinds of toppings. If you like Mellawach, this is the place. Personally I find it too greasy, but that's mellawach in general, not mellawach here.
Please note the restaurant is glatt kosher, which means lots of Orthodox Jews with huge families, and it's closed Friday afternoon and Saturday all day & night... exactly when I always feel like going there.
4905 Santa Monica Blvd (btwn Normandie & Vermont), Tu-Su 11-11. 323-662-9325.
Another really good Lebanese-Armenian, less pricey than Carousel, but slightly less good as well. I've been here about 3 times and all 3 times, our party was the only occupied table in there. But they had really good food, especially the meat-yogurt dishes and the makanek sausages.
11711 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604-2616
on Ventura Blvd. around White Oak Blvd. in Encino
This is by far the best falafel in LA as far as I'm concerned. Small falafel, crispy on the outside, melting-in-your-mouth soft on the inside and bright green with parsley. And they have terrific salads to put inside your pita with the falafel - try the Moroccan carrot salad, any of the various eggplant salads, or the Turkish salad. Really great and cheap, although the attitude of the people behind the counter could be improved upon (as usual in Middle Eastern places - oh well). I don't understand people who like the dry-as-a-bone, gigantic crusty falafel at Falafel King or Eat a Pita. Yuck.
14500 Ventura Blvd (at Beverly Glen)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
This little hole-in-the-wall is owned by an Israeli Arab guy whose brother used to go to school with my dad, and so I always get extra treats here. Hurray for Middle Eastern hospitality. He says he liked the location because it has a low ceiling, not much space, and basically feels like a typical dive in the Old City in Jerusalem, and it's true. Tons of Israelis eat here. The things to get are shwarma, hummus, labne-vegetable sandwiches, and various kabob sandwiches. They make Iraqi pitas (the giant kind, also called lafas) but they're not that great. Pretty good and cheap, but not worth driving across town for.
Cafe du Liban
19223 Ventura Blvd
Tarzana, CA 91356-3122
The thing I get here is the LABNE SANDWICH (labne is yogurt cheese) in an Iraqi pita with zaatar (a spice mix), pitted kalamata olives, olive oil and Arabic salad. Yum! Haven't really tried the other items on the menu, I just love labne.
716 Santa Monica Blvd (7th), Santa Monica. 310-393-2913.
This place really does have an unfortunate name, though Sham in Hebrew (and I assume in Arabic too) means "over there." I've only been here once so far - I suspect that will change since I've just moved to the area. And I remember it was pretty good, and that unfortunately is all I remember.
In the Farmer's Market, 3rd/Fairfax
Quite good pita-kabob stand with good salads & good french fries too, though I haven't tried the falafel - too scared of disappointment. I was scared to try this place for years because Moishe is a very Ashkenazi name, ie Eastern European, and I assumed it wouldn't be any good. Shows how much I know.
Tarzana Armenian Deli
18598 Ventura, 2 blks W of Reseda, Tarzana, 818-881-6278, M-Sa 9-8, Su 11-5. Also at 22941 Ventura in Woodland Hills, 818-225-1854.
Their red tabbouleh and their eggplant-tomato salad are SOOOO good. I have no idea what makes their tabbouleh red - anyone know? They also have perfectly good regular tabouleh (ie green). I'm not a huge fan of lavosh sandwiches but other people seem to like them.
17145 Ventura Blvd btwn White Oak and Balboa, Encino
Also a location in Glendale, I believe.
Armenian bakery with by far the best baklava and the best selection in town. Personally I'm not a giant fan of what Americans tend to think of as baklava, ie the regular phyllo super-sweet stuff with pistachios or walnuts. But they also have tons of noodle-based pastries, like the burma (stuffed with pistachios) that are my favorite, as well as knafe b'jibin (warm cheese pastry with an orange topping), maamoul (date-stuffed cookies), and basbousa (semolina cake, sometimes known as nammoura or pishpishti) - although of course these all have different names in Armenian! And they have espresso. AND they ship across the country!
1422 Westwood N of Ohio, 310-470-9131, Su-Th 11:30-11, F 11:30-mid., Sa 11:30-3pm.
I'm not Persian, but there sure are a lot of Persians in this place, and it really is delicious. Everything I tried has been good - all the stews, the kebobs, the great fresh Iranian flat bread (freshly flame-broiled in the restaurant). Mmmmm.
I've also been to Shimshiri just down the block, and I think it was even better than Shahrazad.
on Ventura Blvd around Haskell, in Encino
Really good Persian restaurant with great chicken kabobs and stews... though I haven't been there for years.
On Ventura Blvd around White Oak, in Encino
This is an Israeli bakery/cafe open very late (except Fridays). It is always packed with Israelis and is very very loud... especially inside. But at least inside people aren't smoking in your face, on the unfortunately enclosed patio. But it does feel exactly like an Israeli cafe and has cafe food - ie not grill-hummus-etc. The nice things here are the burekas (filo pastry stuffed with cheese, potatoes, etc); the sambusac (non-filo pastry stuffed with various combinations of tuna, eggplant, cheese, potatoes, hot sauce, etc); the salads (huge); the coffee and smoothies (esp the mint-lemonade bright green smoothie); and the bagel toasts (a sesame round bread, which doesn't taste at all like a bagel but kind of looks like one, stuffed with various fillings). Delicious. Good omelettes too, though the shakshuka here is overpriced and not that great.
Bagel place on the corner of La Brea & Poinsettia, next to Susina
The bagels here are just terrible. It's a Sephardic family and they make great burekas - potato, potato-mushroom, spinach, and cheese.
Pico near Normandie
Greek kind of counts as Middle Eastern... very similar food. Cheap & yummy for gyros, kabobs, etc. And they have galactoburitos, which are a Greek pastry with cheese that I love.
So, any more ideas? Especially from the Armenians, the Persians, the Lebanese, the various other Middle Eastern countries represented around LA? I haven't been to Wahib's, which I've heard is great, or Aladdin. I know there should be some good places in OC too, because there are a lot of Palestinians who live there. Enlighten us please!
Thank you so much for this post. I am a huge fan of Middle Eastern food but we don't have much out here behind the Orange Curtain and I don't get into LA often. My daughter will be taking a class around Melrose and La Brea every day this week and I would love to get some good Middle Eastern take out. We particularly love the salads; eggplant, baba ganoush, morrocan carrot salad, and great pita. Any of your suggestions close to that area?
Our favorite place is the Mediterranean Garden Grill restaurant on Foothill Blvd, I think it's in Monrovia, but is close to the Arcadia border. The owner is very friendly and we have a great time whenever we go there. All the food is great, but we especially love the lamb kebabs and ashta dessert (never seen that anywhere else!). Enjoy!
i agree with you, msmd, about sunnin. i'll have to try the kibbeh at carnival.
as for the persian restaurants, well, sometimes people will go out for
meals knowing that it will be mediocre, just to go out. i'm afraid that is what all
the persian restaurants i've been to in the west LA serve-- the cheapest and lowest common denominator of tolerable food.
for ex., the tomato cucumber salad is never fresh at any of the restaurants. it is despicable, actually. they won't spend the money on fresh lemon juice. what does this say about the meats??
someone has got to see a gap in quality and open a place that honors this food. just like with greek or any other cuisine.
meanwhile, we're stuck with what is.
everyone should eat at home, basically.
hmmm. Habitually I've always made sure to ask for fresh-squeezed lemon juice on my salads at Middle Eastern restaurants. Just tell them to hold the lemon juice and bring you some lemons if necessary. Obviously shouldn't have to do this, but you do what you gotta do.
And as far as "none of the yemenis I know will go to Magic Carpet, including Israelis" - here's one Yemeni-Israeli who likes Magic Carpet quite a lot (and so does my extended family, and I have at least 50 Yemeni relatives in LA!). You just have to avoid the meat dishes and stick with the mezze, soups & salads & breakfast dishes.
you make your point, ayana. the yemeni israelis i know won't go there anymore.
as much as i like going out i find that most restaurants are in it for the money, not
the offering of great cuisine. which is why home cooking, in the right hands, is so much better. better than bringing lemons in my pocket.
enjoying the discussion
certainly home cooking is by far the best, and of course once you go to the Middle East it's very difficult to go back to eat at any of the places in my list unfortunately! But hey, we expatriates do what we have to do to get our fix. Please start another Middle Eastern restaurant with good home-cooked food for me!
I used to work next door to Carnival- I miss it...
their lentil soup is my FAV! and their Kibbeh is not dry at all.
Dislike Sunnin- nothing special at all.
In terms of Persian, I have asked a LOT of persians, and Javan is a pretty popular recommendation.
I prefer Shamshiri on Westwood, and Darya on Santa Monica.
but once you have eaten at a Persian home, you understand why none of the persian restaurants have many persian customers...they are all eating at their Mother's houses!!!!
this list is rather funny, if you ask me. zankou doesn't count, if you ask me. it is really just fast food. sheherzad in w.wood is ok (some go for the bread) but i wouldn't dare to call it great persian food. none of the yemenis i know will go to magic carpet, including israelis. javan is mediocre persian food as well. lots of food but not subtle and refined, as it should be. raffi's used to be great but i don't think their kabob is above average, except now, when the average is way low. Sham is like Sunnin, not worth a visit, really. except maybe for a hummus.
that isn't to say that there aren't great places in LA. or at least pretty decent. Carousel, Alcazar, Olympia are outstanding, by american standards. Royal has a good kebab, by the way.
people get away with serving very mediocre food b/c many haven't tasted this food at homes. it is my opinion that these opinions, such as which middle eastern restaurants are great, are often misleading, given that there is the presumption of knowing what this food is supposed to be like. this knowledge can only really be had after hundreds, if not thousands, of meals. not one hummus here and there, say.
i don't mean any of this rudely. opinions are helpful but suspect.
I just got lunch from the Lebanese Kitchen in Pasadena. I've liked everything I've had there before, but was disappointed in their 'foul'. It is very soupy/ overly oily in their incarnation and I like mine a little stiffer, preferably served with some toasted pita chips to use to dip into it.
Where would folks recommend for foul in scal?
(all my favorite places for this stuff are in other cities, so i've got no comparison range that would make sense here)
(also - i got the shish kebab salad for lunch, and can't really recommend it. the salad was just lettuce and tomato, and the kebabs were VERY salty, almost to levels where i would think they were trying to hide something. this is the first time i've had food that was not optimal at this place, so it hurts a little bit to report)
Excellent list compiled so far. Being of Lebanese descent I grew up on grape leaves, hummous, tabbouli, kibbeh, kefta, goosa, etc. It's great to have so much good Middle Eastern food in the LA area.
Like you, for many years my favorite was Carnival. I still get take out from there for many family gatherings. But I think Alcazar in Encino has taken over the #1 spot for me. It's a little more expensive than Carnival but the food is excellent and they have many unusual dishes that you won't find at most other Middle Eastern places.
One place I would add to the list that I don't think was mentioned is Wahib's in Alhambra. This is the only place I know of that does the baked kibbeh. They only have it one day a week, I think Thursdays. All other places do the fried football shaped kibbeh balls. The more traditional way is to bake it in large trays, with a layer of meat on the bottom and pine nuts, onions etc in the middle, then another layer of meat on top. The baked kibbeh is moister and more flavorful, as the fried kibbeh balls tend to be dry.
Interesting. I've never tried Wahib's or Alcazar but after reading your post, it's now on my list of places to try very soon. My mother cooks kibbeh the only way I know kibbeh; in the tray and homemade fresh. It's hard to meet that standard of home cooking but I'm willing to explore. Thanks!
Exactly...the tray is the way!! Most restaurants do the fried kibbeh balls because they can cook them to order, if they cook a whole tray and don't use it all they end up throwing some away. At home you just put it in the frig and eat it the next day.
If you like liver, Alcazar has chicken livers in pomegranite sauce that's really good. Also their kibbeh nayeh (raw kibbeh) is very good as well. Here is a link to check out the menu.
yum, Alcazar sounds great. I've been hearing about it for a while and now I'll definitely have to try it. The chicken livers in pomegranate sauce sounds absolutely delicious. I've been meaning to try Wahib's but it's so out of the way for me. However I love baked kibbeh so I will just have to make the drive. But let me plug Carnival's fried kibbeh once again... they're not dry at all and they're really good. And I remembered the Thursday night special - baked kefta in tomato sauce, very good.
I'm on the side of the just-don't-get-it about Sunnin in Westwood. Been there 3 times (can't say I didn't try) and had mediocre to bad food every time! (Plus it arrived cold more than once)
I will definitely try Sofra as well, esp. since I LOVE Turkish food... didn't know there was a single Turkish restaurant in the LA area.
Thanks for the detailed List you started. Since you've now moved to the Westside/Santa Monica area, here's a few more:
Javan - Persian
11500 Santa Monica Blvd.
Have tried their Thursday (?) special of chicken layered between dough and fine condiments that was high recommened but I thought was pretty bad. The meat skewers with rice were fine but imparted no real "WOW" factor to my taste buds. However, I do like their Appatizer Combo at $10.95 with Dolmch? (grape leaves) Shirazi Salad, Sabzi, Olivich Salad, and home made pickels. That's plenty to satify me at lunch.
Sunnin - Lebanese
1779 Westwood Blvd. (1/2 block No. of Santa Monica Blvd.
Someone started a thread here recently titled something like "Sunnin - I just Don't Get It" with "Am I ordedring the wrong things there?". I tried their "Kebbeth bil Sayniyeh" = ground beef and Burgok, stuffed with minced beef, onions, and pine nuts based on a rec from an article I read that wasn't that special and I wouldn't have it again. Sunnin is a small hole-in-the-wall cafe that had a Zagat "Decor" rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 30, I haven't been able to find a lower Zagat decor rating anywhere else in L.A. I keep it simple and order their "Beef Kabob Sandwich" medium rare (like a Lebanese Buritto) for $5.50, Fries on the side $2.00, and consume a half jar of their Green Chili paste over both which they often keep hidden behind the counter. Unfortunately their green chili paste isn't quite hot enough for me. If I feel the need for "Heat", then it's:
The Falafel King
1059 Broxton Ave.
Their Red/Orange chili paste and Tahani sauce are great and terribly addicting when they're thick & creamy; unfortunately they have a poor quality control history and they're too often watered down. They also use to serve some pretty grisly meat from the rotating spit for their Schwarmas, but have made the effort recently in revamping their menu and improving the quality of the meat they serve - 3 weeks ago I even noticed a pink middle in their schwarma beef and lamb. They will prepare meat on skewers which can elimiante that over-cooked problem.
Side Note - They have a branch in the Santa Monica 3rd street promenande where they sell (at least they did 2+ years ago) the food by the pound; I wouldn't trust the meat there, but it's a good opportunity to sample many Midlle Eastern appatizers/starters/mezzas for the first time without spending a lot. The quality should be better elsewhere, but a decent one-stop introduction for Middle Eastern food Novices.
Sofra - Turkish
10800 W. Pico Blvd. (Westside Pavillon
Can decent food be had in a Shopping Mall Food Court? One chowhounder thought it was the excemption and it wasn't dumbed down to please the masses, while a more recent chowhounder said they tried it and cast their vote "Don't bother, nothing special". Not a big $$ risk to sample some Turkish Kabobs or Kabobed sandwiches, so it's on my to-try-list.
Alcazar - Middle East/Lebanese
17239 Ventura Blvd.
Not on the westside, but I do like their selection of cold and hot Mezza and when done, there's been no room left to sample any of the Entrees.
Very good post with great details. Thanks for your effort!
My favorites are Marouch, Lebanese Kitchen, Carousel, Cafe Bravo and Raffi's Place.
I posted my preferences a few months ago and rather then copy and pasting it, I'll provide a link.
A couple places I forgot to mention in that first post...
Cafe Bravo in Glendale (Glenoaks & Grandview in Glendale).
1135 W Glenoaks Blvd
Glendale, CA 91202
If you want to order "to go" or casual in dining, in or around the Glendale area, you can't go wrong with this place. The owner (which just past away) is Russian Armenian (Hayasdan) and their food tends to lean more towards that region then the Middle East (a mixture of Russian, Persian, Armenian and Arabic). There Chicken Kebab is delicious and if you like ikra, it's one of the best I've had.
Raffi's Place (Broadway & Maryland in Glendale
)211 E Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Another excellent Armenian based kebab house with outdoor seating. Their kebabs are one of the best I've had. Busy @ lunch time.
You mentioned Tarzana Armenian Deli. That's my aunt and uncles deli. I'll have to ask her what she puts in her red tabbouleh. They also make great Sarma's (grape leaves) I'll assume it's Paprika but I could be wrong. They're famous for their wraps, yes but they also make pita bread sandwiches that are great. Try the Turkey string cheese with avocado's sandwich. You can't go wrong, it's delicious. If you like vegeterian, try their Veggie Delight. It contains vegetables with string cheese, avocados and tahinee sauce. My cousins and I worked their as teenagers so I know a thing or two about their food.
I love her cooking and I go visit her (@ home) every chance I get. She feeds me a little too well.
It's actually not tabouli. It's known as iech(sp?) salad. It's basically tabouli, minus some of the obvious vegetables and plus bulghur (ground weat), tomato paste, onions (might be scallions). There might be more or less stuff but that's basically it.
I hope we're talking about the same thing. If so, I hope this helped satisfy your curiousity.
Next time there, tell the old man (Mesrob) his nephew said hello.
I have to admit to being totally over Carousel. I can get the same food without the awful service for half the price, or I can spend the same amount and go to Mandaloun and have much better food.
I'm adding Skaf's Lebanese Grill, on Laurel Canyon and Oxnard in North Hollywood, to the list. It's got the best hummus in the city, the best grilled meat (ESPECIALLY the shish kebab) and their daily specials are always wonderful (except for the lima beans and beef stew, because I dislike lima beans).
Absolutely no decor but they're genuinely nice people and the service is friendly.
Nice list. Why not Zankou? Still the best for roast chicken and chicken tarna in my book.
Mandaloun in Glendale is great for more upscale Lebanese.
Agree on the fattouch salad at Carousel, good stuff.
I recently tried Magic Carpet, those beets are good! They are actually open for lunch on Fridays -- perhaps they close soon after lunch. Will be back to try the Iraqi sandwich.
I'm loyal to Falafel King in Westwood, especially for the eggplant salad and the fried potatoes, but I'll have to try some of your Valley dude locations.