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best middle eastern restaurants in LA - one list; add some more

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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
(818) 784-3469
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.

Carousel Restaurant
304 N Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203
(818) 246-7775
and
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.

Magic Carpet
8566 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035-2410
(310) 652-8507

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.

Marouch Restaurant
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.

Amir's Falafel
11711 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604-2616
(818) 509-8641
and
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.

Pita Kitchen
14500 Ventura Blvd (at Beverly Glen)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 990-7006

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
(818) 705-3194

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.

Sham Restaurant
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.

Moishe's
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.

Baklava Factory
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!

Shahrezad
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.

Shiraz Restaurant
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.

Aroma Restaurant
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.

Papa Cristos
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!

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  1. 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.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chowpatty

      Oops. Don't know how I could forget Zankou. Of course they're real good. Their baba ghanoush is great, really smoky.
      I'll have to try Mandaloun, I love Lebanese!

    2. 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.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        mmmmm... sounds good, I'll definitely try this place!

      2. I think Russkar used to speak well of Arax at Santa Monica & Normandie.

        1. 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.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          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
          (818)500-4005

          http://local.yahoo.com/details;_ylt=A...

          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
          (818) 240-7411

          http://local.yahoo.com/details;_ylt=A...

          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.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Joe

            wow, you're so lucky!! thanks in advance for the red tabbouleh info, I've been curious about that for years.

            1. re: ayana

              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.

          2. 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.
            West L.A.
            (310) 207-5555

            http://www.javanrestaurant.com

            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.
            )Westwood
            (310) 477-2358

            http://www.sunnin.com

            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.
            Westwood Village
            (310) 208-4444

            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
            )West L.A.
            (310) 441-7776

            http://www.sofra.us

            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.
            Encino
            (818) 789-0991

            http://www.al-cazar.com

            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.