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Best middle eastern in the valley?

I'll be in Sherman Oaks Saturday and thought it would be a good opportunity to try some more Middle Eastern places around there -- I'll probably get some stuff to bring home. I know about Carnival, and I've been to the Glendale Skaf's and to Amir's Falafel -- anyplace else worthy of takeout that's not too incredibly far from Sherman Oaks? Looking for great hummus, babaghanouj, pita, maybe roast chicken, etc.

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  1. Cedar House cafe whitsett and riverside

    1. I've read good things on Chowhound about Simon's on Sepulveda just south of Ventura Blvd. I haven't been yet.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kate is always hungry

        I've been to Simons twice. The first time during lunch, and I ordered a sandwich which wasn't good. I went back my friend and I ordered the food you're looking for and it was good. It's worth a try. The chef is always around to talk to for recomendations.

      2. Not sure you're gonna do better than Carnival and Skaf's, both pretty darn good. If anyone knows of anything distinctly better I definitely wanna hear about it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: la tache burger

          Well, it doesn't have to absolutely be better -- sometimes different is good too. I'm particularly interested in places that have good eggplant salads and other prepared vegetable salads.

          1. re: Chowpatty

            It really isn't Middle Eastern per se but Chenar Deli, in the strip mall on the corner of Laurel Cyn & Riverside (next to Sushi Don), has some awesome eggplant dishes. It is all carryout but their baba ganoush is awesome and they have this eggplant wrapped around a filling made of walnuts, sour cream and dill that is super tasty.

            Also and FWIW, I really dig Skaf's but you've been to the one in Glendale The one in NoHo is really divey but there is lots of love and if you've never tried the baked kibbeh, it is the Monday special and it rocks.

        2. I don't know if you've heard about Hummus Bar & Grill on Ventura in Tarzana but it is dense with Israeli expats, both patrons and staff. Two strong points for me are their hummus and their fresh laffa flatbread station...

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/506565

          An Israeli acquaintance considers Aroma Cafe to be her favorite - haven't tried them but it may be worth a search. They're also located on Ventura but in Encino...

          http://aromabakery.com/

          5 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            great tips, forgot about hummus bar, am dying to try

            1. re: la tache burger

              The laffa is great and included with your meal, but the number of busy tables will effect your ability to get it replenished. Go during slack times during the day if possible...

              1. re: bulavinaka

                thx. besides humus and laffa, other standouts?? What about the eggplant chowpatty's lookin for?

                1. re: la tache burger

                  HBG offers a salad option where (I'm guessing here) nine to 11 salads in small bowls are brought to the table - it's endless refills as well. This assortment seems to vary from day to day (we've been three times) or maybe even afternoon to evening. We enjoyed an excellent chopped liver on our first time during lupper (late lunch towards supper) as well as a light flavorful egg salad, but our next two visits only resulted in egg salad and no chopped liver. Other than that, the small samples of various salads seemed to be about the same on all of our visits, give or take. Look over the run down on the post that I referred to above. Some were boring, others pretty good, and some were great. The assorted salads does include baba ganoush, if that's what you're asking for, and it was very good, light, and fluffy. Because I far more prefer hummus in general, baba ganoush is always an afterthought for me as I consider both to have a very similar taste profile. They also included a sauteed eggplant dish in the salads - that I did enjoy.

                  Let forewarn you that if one person at your table wants this endless salad option, then there's a good chance that each person at your table will be charged for it. I think it's $5-$6 per for those ordering an entree, and about $10 per for those only choosing this option. On our first visit, the waitress charged only me and my wife for this, and let our kids slide. However, we all were charged on subsequent visits. My guess is tables were taking advantage of this endless salad option where the whole table was enjoying the salads while paying for just one.

                  The falafal was a little overdone on our first visit, but was spot-on on our subsequent visits. The texture and flavors were great, and a very generous portion of tahini was provided.

                  We found their grilled items hit & miss. We thought the grilled portabello mushrooms were great. Their ribeye was very delicious as well. But when we ordered shawarma, I was expecting the typical Middle East lamb/beef style - it was chicken. Maybe I lost something in the translation or possibly just this place's style?

                  Their schnitzel is excellent in execution, but the chicken meat showed up again in the form of a breast. It has a very clean flavor for something that is breaded and fried. I would have preferred veal - pork obviously not an option here.

                  After eating here a few times, I would suggest that you follow one of a few strategies.

                  1) Everyone order an entree and get charged for the add-on salad option. This is probably the most economical way to enjoy a full meal there. The salads will vary in appeal from eater to eater, but I would think that most will find at least half the salads to be very enjoyable. Of course, if you can nuzzle up with the waitress and work something out...

                  2) Only order the entrees and of course the hummus. You can always order more food as you go along - this place is very conducive to an open-ended dining experience.

                  3) If you're going for lunch or are a lighter eater, just order the salad option. This alone will fill up most people as long as some protein items (i.e., chopped liver, egg salad) are in the mix.

                  Diana, who originally posted about this place, mentioned that HBG doesn't apply corkage for your wine. By all means, bring a bottle or two - this is the one thing that I felt was really missing in the dining experience. I hope this helps...

          2. Love Carnival, also try the eggplant salad, different that the babaghanouj. Great tabbouli, yogurt with cucumber all the salads are great.

            1. Don't forget about Alcazar in Encino. I don't think the food is any better than you'll get at Carnival, but the atmosphere is certainly more attractive.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Bob Brooks

                Alcazar is better than Carnival. Alcazar is a lot better than Carnival: the fried fish with tahini, the perfect shish tawok, the exquisite brains with pine nuts, the magnificent arak they bring in - it's playing in an entirely different league. Too fancy for takeout, though, I would think.

                1. re: condiment

                  Yeah, some of the menu items may be a bit fancy for takeout, but I've done takeout of mezza a number of times from al-cazar. In fact, whenever I fly back from LA on business, the wife insists I bring back a large order of al-cazar's hummus, babaghanoush, grape leaves, and muhammarah (all highly recommended BTW). So, if you see some poor schmuck at LAX or Burbank, toting large al-cazar and baklava factory takeout packages thru security - "yeah, it's for consumption on the plane, sir, why do you ask?" - have pity on me; I'm in the middle of a 1,000-mile takeout run from al-cazar.

              2. I've been to Carnival and many of the places in Wilshire corridor and think the best place I've been to is Pita Kitchen on Van Nuys by the newsstand off Ventura Blvd. It's definitely more casual street food rather than some of the nicer establishments. The owner, Abe, is from Israle and has brought over a lot of the specialties from the region. Their side dishes are fantastic from the smokey babaghanouj, vibrant tabouli served with properly a side of lemon, excellent hummus foul and the variety of pickles and olives they provide for free (but you have to ask). When I go there I have a very hard time deciding on which meat to get. I usually opt for the meat combo so I can sample a few of their meats. My personal favorites are lamb schwarma (gyro), chicken schwarma and chicken schnitzel (fried chicken cutlets). Their shish kebobs are very good and come in chicken, lamb and meat. I also order a side of falaffel, made to order. I've pretty much eaten everything on the menu and have enjoyed everything. I hear a lot of Israeli and other middle eastern language spoken which always makes me feel better about the authenticity of the food.
                http://www.thepitakitchen.com/
                14500 1/2 Ventura Blvd
                (818) 900-7006

                2 Replies
                1. re: js76wisco

                  I was going to recommend Pita Kitchen as well. Lacks certainly in atmosphere, but if you're doing take-out it's great.

                  Carnival is great too, but as well lacks real atmosphere.

                  Agree w/ Bob Brooks that Alcazar is best if you're trying to blend food and atmosphere.

                  1. re: js76wisco

                    Yeah, but he puts peanuts in his pilaf/rice. A no no for me. I like Ceadr House a lot.
                    Hummus Bar is good, but a bit of a ways from Sherman Oaks.

                    Aroma Bakery Cafe in Encino is AMAZING! More cafe like, fabulous food. the sweet potato salad thing (I order it sans nuts) is just mind blowingly good.

                  2. Koko's Middle Eastern Restaurant in Van Nuys. Really really great food.

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                    Koko's Middle Eastern Restaurant
                    16935 Vanowen St Ste L, Van Nuys, CA 91406

                    1. Italian Middle Eastern Market on Riverside and Fulton in Sherman Oaks is outstanding. It's run by 2 Lebanese brothers and they make the hummus, babaghanouj, tabouli and falafel fresh daily.

                      It's not a restaurant, but a market with a well-stocked deli case with the various Middle Eastern delights like I mentioned as well as a variety of olives, cheeses, meats, some baked goods, stuffed grape leaves, etc. They also make good sandwiches.

                      But don't stop there. Browse around the store and you'll find other interesting Middle Eastern canned goods. I tried the large white beans in a red sauce (canned), and now I drive over there from Hollywood just to buy this item. They also have interesting drinks. Try the Chinotto, a very refreshing, lightly carbonated fruit drink by San Pellegrino that is not sweet at all. I also like the yogurt-based drinks.

                      They have a few tables out front, but it's not a restaurant. It's set up for takeout.

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                      Italian Middle-Eastern Market
                      13246 Riverside Dr, Sherman Oaks, CA

                      1. My friend who is Armenian tells me that Cafe du Liban on Ventura in Tarzana is good. Have not been there yet but the menu looks good. They are closed on Sunday, which is one of the main reasons I have not made it there yet.

                        1. I second the recommendation for Kokos in Van Nuys, near Van Owen and Balboa. I loved the hummus, and the meat, and all the little extras that came with the meal.

                          We tried Alcazar and didn't like it at all.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ValleyGal

                            That's odd, I think you are the only one I've ever seen say that!
                            What didn't you like?

                            1. re: Diana

                              We very much liked the wait staff at Alcazar and the ambience, but the food, not so much. I can't remember what we had, but it was most probably some kind of meat (not chicken) dish.

                              However, I have unpopular views because I haven't liked a lot that I've seen recommended on these boards. For instance, I didn't like "It's All Good" the Persian restaurant on Reseda, and I don't like Zankhou chicken.

                              I do think that many people will like Koko's Middle Eastern near Van Owen and Balboa.
                              16935 Vanowen St., Van Nuys 91406

                          2. Been to Kokos, Carnival, Carousel, haven't been to Alcazar or Aroma cafe yet. But so far, Carnival for me!