Armenian in Glendale: the best kebab I've yet experienced
So I have this friend Ara, who is Armenian-American. Of course, normally, the first thing that comes to mind whenever I meet anybody of any particular cultural or ethnic group is not, "What is your personal ethnic experience?" or "What is the history of your people?" but "Where do I eat?"
I wanted some kebab one day. I suggest he pick a restaurant in Little Armenia. He suggested we meet in Carousel, in Little Armenia. It is quite tasty. Afterwards, I say, "Damn, that was quite tasty."
"Eh," he says, "Carousel is OK."
I pause. "There's better?"
"Of course. There's really no good Armenian food in Little Armenia." (Aside from Zankou, it is later established.)
"Where's the best Armenian then?"
"My aunt's house."
"Well that helps me none. Any restaurants?"
"Well, there is one..."
One month later: we're at Helena's, in Glendale. It is a little corner place, halfway between a room and a patio. Ara bounces happily.
"OK, Thi. This, this is real kebab. All the Armenian's go to Rafi's instead of Helena's. Stupid Armenians. Don't know their own food. They go for the ambiance. *Ambiance*! The food is terrible. Now this, this is great kebab."
I get the combination plate, which is lulu kebab - the ground stuff - shish kebab, and two lamb-chops, with a grilled pepper and a grilled tomato.
It blows my freakin' mind.
It is clearly the best kebab of my entire life.
Have you ever had an experience where you've been eating a cuisine for your entire life, and it becomes immediately and sensationally obvious to you that you've never had the real article?
Anyway - the lulu kebab is deep and lush and soft. It's almost creamy, and beautifully rich. It's like it carries it's own soup with it. The shish-kebab is chewy and crusty with a spice crust, and a deep flavor. The lamb-chops - the lamb chops are genuine beauty. I cannot speak more of the lamb chops. They were very, very happy lamb-chops.
Ara decided to experiment and get the lamb-kebab chicken-kebab plate. (Lamb-kebab is distinct from chicken kebab.) It is quite good, but not as distinctly wonderful as the combination platter.
"When you get tired of the flavor, try cutting a piece of pepper and wrapping the meat in it." This works wonderfully, especially with the lulu kebab.
I insist we order some grape-leave thingies. There are only huge platters on the menu, but we ask the waitress if we can get a small plate and she offers us a plate of six. This is fine. They turn out to be huge. Ara insists we order the non-vegetarian ones, which he says are better.
"The dolmas you find in Greek delis, at Zankou's, aren't real," says Ara. "They're cold. They're full of rice. What did the Greek's do? Cold turns grape-leaves stringy. Now this, this is a real ."
The grape-leaf thingies are also sensational, tons better then anything I've had in LA. There is, in them, a deep round flavor that seems to be simultaneously olivey and deeply browned, but not crusty/roasted/spicy, meat.
We leave. "You have to do something, Thi," says Ara. "You have to to get people to come to this restaurant. Everyone's going to Rafi's now. They all know that Rafi's is worse, but they go just because it's clean. Just because the service is good." (Indeed, the service at Helena's is glacial.) "You have to pack this place. It deserves to be packed."
So yes. Go to Helena's. They understand meat. The lentil soup is kind of boring, the salad completely silly, but the meat! This stands as one of the finest meat places in my memory. They get meat on a very deep level. They know how to cook the soul of meat.
I suggest *not* getting take-out. The meat had a very sharp decline in power as it got cold, towards the very end of the meal.
Helena's Greek Armenian Cuisine (It may be Helana's, or Halena's... my memory is blocked by the extreme daze I had as I left the restaurant)
1000 S. Glendale Blvd. (Ave? Who knows...)
It's on a corner, with lots of dangly Christmas lights. I think.
Elena's is packed, with no parking on surrounding streets on Sat nights. So I combed the sidestreets
and lurked for departing folk with large parking
spaces (I'm hopeless at parallel parking). Patience
paid off eventually.
Since the only table left was a table for six and
a very friendly Armenian family walked in with me,
I had a lovely dinner with them, teasing the kids,
chatting with the wife, and watching Forrest Gump
in subtitled English on the TV. You can grab your
own drink from the frig in front for a dollar,
and with the combo plate comes pita bread, pickled
cabbage (vibrantly pink) and either a large dinner
salad or the forgettable lentil soup people keep
mentioning. Naturally, I avoid the soup and find
the salad is refreshing with the kebab.
For $7 I got a combo plate with lulu kebab and
a chicken kebab. Try the lulu kebab: tender, juicy
and spiced, however I should've avoided the chicken
one: it was three large chunks of chicken on a kebab,
totally different from the ground beef version in the
lulu ( different texture). And the dolmas are, as
advertised, worth ordering if you have at least 3-4
people, since the combo plate with the accompaniments
is a helluva a lot of food!
For chicken kebabs I think I'll stick to Mediterranean
Cafe in Pasadena for restaurant versions. But that's
still a poor substitute compared to a Persian chicken
barq, an intense saffron-flavored chicken kebab, that
friends of mine make.
In the Sherman Oaks area, there is Carnival at 4356 Woodman, just north of Ventura Blvd that is quite good and the Crossroads Cafe adjacent to Valley College, which is fast-food looking and not meant for dinner-type dining, is very good for lunch and/or an early casual dinner. Flavors at the latter are very good.
After reading Thi's enthusiastic post (and having not eaten in 30hrs), I decided to give Helena's a try. Anyhow, I can confirm the address is infact 1000 Glendale Blvd, Glendale, incase some of you rely on Mapquest for directions. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a website or phone number through the internet or 411, so you might have to drive there.
Ok, on to the food. Unfortunately, since I went there by myself, I couldn't order too much food. I took the advice of Thi, and likewise ordered the combo plate. It cost a very reasonable US$8.00, which consisted of 1 piece of Lulu kebab, 3 pieces of shish kebab, and 2 pieces of lamb chop. There was also rice, onions, radish, a bundle pita bread, and a choice of lentil soup or salad. I wanted to order "grape leaf thingies" as well, but I did not have enough money.
I thought the soup was nice, but it wasn't anything to write home about either. The soup portion is quite generous, plus it's also rather thick and filling. To me, this is a good thing since I'm on a limited budget.
The radish was nothing special IMO.
I thought the combo dish was very good, and much better than Carousel's kebabs. All the meats were very tasty, and very well prepared, albeit I probably wasn't as exited as Thi about it. I actually enjoyed the lamb chops the most, and I thought the yellowish rice was also very good. It was soft, tasty, and went very well with the onions and meat.
For $8.00, I think this place is a very good value. I will definetely return, and perhaps try another dish, such as the roasted quail (also for 7 or 8 bucks). I skipped the dessert, because there was nothing interesting (was it baklava & rice pudding?).
I was slightly dissapointed with the service. Most of the time, there were no service people to be found. My water was filled only twice during the whole meal (At one time, the waiter forgot to refill my water after I asked him to). I also had to go inside the kitchen to get someone to give me the cheque. Otherwise, the service was friendly when it was available. As long as service isn't rude (like in Soot-Bull-Jeep or Lawry's prime rib), I don't mind too much.
Ambience was also lacking, but that's not an issue for me. If anything, it usually tells me that I will be spending money on the food, not the ambience. But this might be something to consider, if you plan on taking your boss out, or a first date, etc.
Overall, I feel Thi's has offered a good recommendation. I think it's a very good restaurant, albeit I'm not quite as exited about it as Thi was. I would go back, and I would recommend other chowhounders to also give this place a try. Hey, if you don't like it, it will only cost you a mere $8 and 30mins.
On a side note, at the time I was there (4-5pm on Fri), parking was also plentiful on the street located behind the restuarant.
Okay, Thi. You've roused me from my Friday afternoon stupor. And not just because your friend keeps dis'n my restaurant! (Actually, I've never heard of Rafi's -- where is it? I'll have to have a word with them...) I thought I'd never want to have another lulu kebab again after dinner the other night with my chow-dad and his chow-wife (hi guys, you know who you are!) which, as it happens, was at the big and bountiful Glendale Carousel. A lusciously delicious but too-large meal that included not only the tangy pomegranate mahabarta (sp?) I remembered but also a great smoky-spicy sausage served in a dramatic flambe style as well as many other taste treats and was accompanied by an expensive-but-worth-it (dad was paying) mid -eastern wine. All I can say is: if Helena's is really better than Carousel, surely one of the finest dining establishments in Glendale (faint praise, perhaps), then I'm running-not-walking. For what it's worth, Helena's was already recommended to me by the proprietor of an Armenian deli who sold me some of the biggest and sweetest dates I've ever eaten. Shoulda listened... On the subject of lamb chops, I recently had them at Maroush (sp? apologies for my culinary dislexia), on Santa Monica, another local Middle Eastern favorite. Not as good as I remembered. Too fatty. Although overall the food is very good there... who isn't a fool for their foule? :) Maybe it's time to weigh in on the merits of all hummus-serving establishments? I thought I had the category covered. Your friend makes me realize the depths of my ignorance!
Thanks for another great post.
re: Richard Foss
re: Melanie Wong
i believe you are referring to kabakians lebanese restaurant. i nearly died when the uncle put down his paper, took a drag from his cigarette, patted down his few remaining strands of hair on his head, rubbed the stubble on his chin, hacked phlegm from his throat,hitched his pants, shuffled over to our table and attempted to feed everyone their first mouthful of food in the traditional manner of his homeland. i am thrilled to provide an answer to the wonderful melanie wong who has entertained me numerous time on the chowhound boards.
Ara adds as we leave: "Now do you see? I don't know why everybody keeps talking about Carousel. The Armenians actually think of Carousel as a pretty mediocre restaurant."
I have no opinion on his claiming to speak for all Armenians. I simply convey information.
(Side note: Ara also spoke highly of Sahag's Basturama, in Little Armenia, which, I suppose, doesn't count quite as a restaurant, so maybe doesn't give the lie to his "no good restaurants in Little Armenia" rule. I went to Sahag's. It hurt me. I suppose I enjoyed it. I kind of want more. But it sure hurt me.)
I dream of Helena's dolmas still.
re: Thi N.
Some Armenians may think of Carousel as a mediocre restaurant, but the night Rafi, Sheryl and I were there (the large Glendale branch), it was filled with extended Armenian families. I thought it was terrific--the best Middle Eastern I've eaten in LA. (By the way, the place had been been recommended by my pharmacist, a genuine Lebanese Armenian himself.) The food was almost equal to a memorable meal I once had at a place called (believe-it-or not) Philadelphia in East Jerusalem. Doubt I'll be going THERE for awhile, but I'll sure as hell be trying Helena's soon. Thanks for the tip!
re: roger simon
Personally, I feel that Carousel and Helena's are quite a different experience. While I feel Helena had better lulu kebab, beef kebab, rice, and lamb chops (I only tried this particular combo plate as Thi mentioned), I can't voucher for the chicken. Helena's is also a great value. The combo plate Thi (and I) had was only 7 or 8 dollars, but it's good, large, and filling (even though I had to order an extra portion of rice). The dolmas could also have been better than Carousel's, but unfortunately I didn't try that.
As for Carousel, I think they're main appeal is the comprehensive assortment of appetizers you get when you order the set meal. It's literally a feast! It almost reminded me of Yongusan. By contrast, Helena's hardly has any appetizers exept for the salad and the bland lentil soup.
Ambience was pretty lousy IMO at both places, but service was better at Carousel. I wouldn't suggest either place for a date, lol.
Consequently, if you going for the meat only and you're on a tighter budget, Helena's seems like the better choice. Carousel has it's merits more in appetizers. I suggest you guys check out both places, and decide for yourselves!
re: Adrian Hopkins
I wouldn't necessarily rule out the restaurants as
date places. Elena's noise level is good, the ambience
is homestyle comfortable (albeit Armenian homestyle)
and the food is pretty good.
Actually, unbelievably good food can be a negative
on dates, since you can get no decent conversation
out of me and my friends. When food is that good, its
visceral; and we're single-minded in the pursuit of
re: Adrian Hopkins
re: roger simon
Yes, I was actually reffering to the branch in Hollywood. I'm suprised they're closed, since they were quite packed when I was there (July?). The decor (inside or outside) was somewhat campy IMO, but I guess it could appeal to some.
I've never been the Carousel in Glendale, although I pass by frequently whenever I pass by for Cuban sandwiches in Porto's, and I agree it looks much nicer on the outside. I'll be sure to try it out sometime!
re: roger simon