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Alcazar Express in Westwood

lil mikey Jan 28, 2010 05:34 AM

Driving up Westwood Blvd between Santa Monica and Wilshire, starving, I was on the lookout for a place to land.

Sunnin, Ambala Dhaba, Pomodoro, Soleil, the various fancy Persian and Italian places, sushi, Thai… WTF – Alcazar??? U-turn in traffic on Westwood, find a parking space at a failed parking meter and walk a coupla blocks south to check it out.

I’ve been to the Alcazar in Encino, and frankly I’ve never been blown away. But I had a hankering for Mid East food, so I had to try it.

GRAND OPENING was the sign.

Inside, it was clean, a lot larger than it appears from the front, with a whole back room for additional seating.

Service was nothing short of outstanding… very friendly and attentive but not overbearing.

Once I ordered, I was presented with a basket of pita and bowls of green olives and pickles (pink pickled turnips).

Shortly, a salad of romaine, Persian cucumbers and tomatoes arrived. It was dressed in a delightful lemon and parsley vinaigrette. The lemon flavor really came through and added a nice freshness.

And with it came a small bowl of baba ghanouj. This could very well be the best baba ghanouj I’ve had in years. It was quite smoky-tasting, but light. It was not heavy at all. It had some olive oil poured into an indentation in the middle, and it was a real treat.

The lamb kabob was tender, but dry. When I originally ordered it, the waiter asked if I wanted it well done or medium well. Of course I selected medium well, but in hindsight, I should have just said medium. But for being overcooked (imho), it was still remarkably tender… a little dry, but tender. And the dryness could easily be overcome by including a pickle while making little sandwiches in the pita.

It came with a roasted tomato, which was also useful in combating the dryness of the lamb. It had a unique flavor; maybe it was marinated before cooking. It was slightly tangy, and I liked it.

The rice pilaf was cooked perfectly. Tender and moist, with the individual grains keeping to themselves and not glomming together. It would have been nice if there was a jar of sumac to sprinkle over the top of the rice, but it really wasn’t necessary.

Over the top of the lamb were slices of grilled pita with a paprika and shallot coating. These were flavorful and an interesting change from the plain pita in the basket. And they were considerably fresher than the ones I’ve had at the original Alcazar in Encino.

In fact, my meals at the Encino Alcazar have never been as good as this meal.

This is a good addition to the area. The above, with a diet coke, was $16, including a surcharge for lamb instead of chicken. The regular lunch special is $9.95, and includes all of the above with chicken instead of lamb. There are also several other selections on the $9.95 lunch special menu including salmon, shwarma, lula kabob and a veggie plate… a total bargain in my view.

Alcazar Express
1303 Westwood Boulevard (3 blocks south of Wilshire)
Westwood
(310) 914-9777

  1. j
    JBC Jan 28, 2010 06:23 AM

    Thanks for the write-up; however, I thought I might add a few clarifications:

    ~ And Lunch Specialty Sandwiches for $6.95 to $8.95 with pita in a basket, olives, & pickled turnips + 1 side. A totally awesomesque bargain ?
    ~ Lunch specials also good on Saturday.
    ~ It's actually closer to 1 1/5 blocks south of Wilshire (Pomodoro is 3 blocks south).
    ~ They now have their own web address:

    http://www.alcazarexpress.com/

    1. J.L. Jan 28, 2010 08:45 AM

      They do a bang up job indeed.

      The Grand Opening sign is still up?!

      1. a_and_w Jan 28, 2010 08:57 AM

        I really love this place, but I worry they're not getting enough business. It's been empty almost every time I've gone, though I tend to hit them at off hours. Perhaps that's why the sign is still up?

        1. c
          coffeebrownies Jan 28, 2010 07:16 PM

          I got a sandwich takeout there a few weeks ago and it was great, and under $10.00 with pickles on the side (and I think pita too.) I agree, the restaurant was too empty--I'd like it to stick around.

          1. n
            nosh Jan 28, 2010 08:10 PM

            As with others on that stretch of Westwood Blvd, the key limiting factor is parking. A couple of places have arrangements to validate in the Borders structure, otherwise it can be a frustrating hit or miss.

            5 Replies
            1. re: nosh
              J.L. Jan 28, 2010 08:32 PM

              Side streets, people, side streets...

              1. re: J.L.
                j
                Jwsel Jan 28, 2010 08:53 PM

                There is very little side-street parking, unfortunately. It really is a problem in that area.

                1. re: Jwsel
                  J.L. Jan 28, 2010 10:09 PM

                  Uh, I actually live within a few blocks of Alcazar Express (been there over 9 years), and I can say with much authority and expertise that there IS street parking.

                  Sure, not always within 1 block of the restaurant, but if you look further down on Wellworth, Ashton, Midvale, Rochester, or Veteran, you WILL find it. Be persistent.

                  When I have guests visiting me, I've never had a single complaint them about not finding a street parking spot. Sure not always within 1 block, but the spots ARE there.

                  1. re: J.L.
                    a_and_w Jan 29, 2010 07:12 AM

                    The parking is definitely a problem. I, too, have found parking on the side streets at night (as I recall, otmosando recommends parking in the library during the day). Like JL, however, I live close enough that I usually walk or take the bus.

                    1. re: a_and_w
                      e
                      epop Jan 29, 2010 11:56 PM

                      Plus they offer valet parking. It is more than worth the visit.

            2. a_and_w Feb 1, 2010 09:48 AM

              For those concerned about parking, Alcazar Express now delivers on weekends. I live a couple of miles away, so delivery was free, but it sounds like there's a charge if you live further. Hummus, shish-tawook, and fried cheese boereg were all excellent as always. The falafel were a real revelation -- light and crispy despite being delivered. However, chicken shawarma and baba ghanoush were a little disappointing -- I prefer Sham's versions. (Note: mutabaal is the Sham equivalent of baba ghanoush at Alcazar.)

              9 Replies
              1. re: a_and_w
                b
                bulavinaka Mar 21, 2010 10:04 PM

                Maybe I should have ordered their basic hummus this past Friday - I ordered the "Chef's Hummus." While it looked yummy - hummus mixed with chic peas, topped with olive oil and pine nuts, it totally lacked salt - zip as far as I could taste. Is their hummus supposed to be like that or do you think it was just an oversight? In fact, our entrees as well seemed far too undersalted, but the seasonings otherwise were very nice. I usually like things light on the salt, but the dishes didn't register on the salt radar at all. A salt shaker took care of this, but I was just surprised - never had this issue any other Mediterranean eatery.

                We also ordered the beef lula kabab, the lamb kabab and the Kbbi Al Seekh (which they missed on our order). Aside from the salt issue, the two entrees were quite good. Perfectly grilled, nice slight char on the outside, tender and moist on the inside.

                As some have mentioned, although parking on Westwood is tough, a little searching in the adjacent neighborhood will eventually result in an open spot.

                I'm not even close to writing this place off yet. But have you noticed any inconsistencies or shortcomings?

                1. re: bulavinaka
                  omotosando Mar 21, 2010 11:47 PM

                  I love the place, but don't love the hummus. I think I like a tangier hummus. I haven't noticed any inconsistencies - just that I prefer a different kind of hummus. I love their baba though.

                  1. re: bulavinaka
                    j
                    Jwsel Mar 22, 2010 12:57 AM

                    I've tried the Hummus at the original Alcazar and don't recall it being bland. However, you might want to try the Hummus Alcazar, which has chili and garlic and is topped with fava beans. It's not particularly spicy, but I don't think you would find it bland.

                    1. re: Jwsel
                      a_and_w May 11, 2010 11:09 AM

                      I'm just finishing some leftover Hummus Alcazar for breakfast... delicious!

                    2. re: bulavinaka
                      e
                      epop Mar 22, 2010 04:11 PM

                      I'm not crazy about their hummus; I thought it was just me. Most everything else I tried is quite good, way better than 99% of the Arabic restaurants.

                      I find some of their food a little heavier on the lemon than I normally care for. Generally I find restaurants serve with way too much salt. It sounds like it may have been an off night, as far as salt. I never noticed this issue at Alcazar.

                      1. re: epop
                        a_and_w Mar 24, 2010 10:48 AM

                        epop, what didn't you like about their hummus? I think it could use some green onion, but otherwise it really hits my spot.

                        1. re: a_and_w
                          omotosando Mar 24, 2010 04:38 PM

                          I like my hummus creamier and tangier. I'm not crazy about the Hummus Alcazar either. I really like spicy foods, but I find the Hummus Alcazar really neither here nor there - not really spicy enough. Ah, but the baba ghounoush and the fattoush are flawless.

                          1. re: omotosando
                            e
                            epop Mar 25, 2010 04:40 PM

                            yes, that's pretty much my feeling, A and W. I like it creamier and tangier. I had a tasty hummus at Gypsy cafe recently (and good tabbouli) but Alcazar is much better.

                      2. re: bulavinaka
                        a_and_w Mar 24, 2010 10:46 AM

                        Hmmm... I don't think of hummus as a particularly salty food. When I make it at home, I use about a half-teaspoon of salt. That said, I have noticed they are lighter on the salt than other places like Sham. I'm nowhere near as thirsty after a meal from Alcazar. You might try the Hummus Alcazar, like Jwsel suggests. Like otmosando, my friend loves the baba ganoush, though I prefer Sham's more garlicky moutabaal. In terms of consistency, I've noticed that the kitchen can get overwhelmed. My best meals lately have been Sunday night deliveries, when they're less busy.

                    3. omotosando Apr 18, 2010 10:08 PM

                      Went for lunch on Friday. It wasn't full, but at least we weren't the only ones there (I worry about this place).

                      Had the vegetarian plate - hummus, baba ghannouj, falafel, grape leaves and tabbooleh. I asked them to substitute something for the tabbooleh because I don't eat onions and they just looked at me and said, "we'll make it for you without onions." What a concept - I guess I am so used to pre-made foods in restaurants that sadly it never occurred to me that they could make me tabbooleh without onions.

                      Everything excellent as usual, including the tabbooleh without onions.

                      1. omotosando May 13, 2010 01:25 AM

                        We went on Mother's Day. Very sad. Our party of 4 and another party of 2 were the only people in the restaurant during a 2 1/2 hour window starting at 12:30. p.m. How can they possibly stay in business?

                        Nevertheless, we ordered the Alacazar royal mezza (or something like that). The food just kept coming - course after course - it seemed like the whole menu. There were enough leftovers for three days. Everything was delicious.

                        Plus, since they have no liquor license, we brought a nice French wine, which they served in nice wine glasses - no corkage.

                        I just keeping - how long can this delightful place last.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: omotosando
                          c
                          carter May 13, 2010 07:42 AM

                          Good question omotosando, in that they are selling the original location in Encino, so this will be the only one.
                          Yet, on Mother's Day, I am not surprised as to its being quiet. The environment in the Westwood Blvd. location is not Mother's Day comfortable, or at least it doesn't feel that way to me!

                          1. re: carter
                            Phurstluv May 13, 2010 11:55 AM

                            My DH works in the area and walks there for lunch at least once a week. Hey, we're just doing our part.....

                            1. re: Phurstluv
                              omotosando May 13, 2010 06:20 PM

                              I was there for lunch today and thank goodness there were other customers. They had a special of lahmahjoon (Armenian pizza), which I now regret I didn't order because I have always wanted to try lahmahjoon .

                              1. re: omotosando
                                b
                                bulavinaka May 13, 2010 06:36 PM

                                Partamian on W. Adams has it as well. I think it was poster Monku who recently pointed this out. I went this past weekend, picked up a dozen, and they were gooood! I think it was $1.75 a piece. If you like Mexican breads, don't pass on those in the bakery - they're gooood too! They're about a couple blocks east of Hauser...

                                -----
                                Partamian Bakery
                                5410 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016

                            2. re: carter
                              omotosando May 14, 2010 12:52 AM

                              Perhaps my family is strange, but I think we are going back for father's day! My dad really liked the no corkage and they were extremely professional in serving the wine. Plus, they gave us the back room to ourselves, so we felt like we had our own dedicated dining room. Sort of being at home, but we didn't have to cook or clean the dishes. Hope they have lahmahjoon for Father's Day.

                              1. re: omotosando
                                e
                                epop May 14, 2010 04:24 PM

                                I may do the same.

                            3. re: omotosando
                              e
                              epop May 13, 2010 09:56 PM

                              They definitely aren't busy enough of the time, though they deserve to be.

                              1. re: epop
                                c
                                coffeebrownies May 13, 2010 10:26 PM

                                I think they do a fairly steady take out business at lunch. I have noticed that they are kind of slow at lunch time-- the kitchen seems to be at capacity with the limited dine in customers and the take out orders.

                            4. b
                              bromion May 19, 2010 05:38 PM

                              I really enjoy the food at Alcazar Express, and take-out is great (though $20 minimum for delivery), but I have to say the service is spotty. They are very friendly, but a lot of the staff seems a bit awkward. I don't let this detract, but just putting it out there.

                              Overall, thumbs up!

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: bromion
                                c
                                coffeebrownies May 20, 2010 03:22 PM

                                The day I previously posted on Alacazar Express,I was full of enthusiasm for the place--so I ran down there on my lunch hour and ordered take out. They told me 10 minutes. I ended up browsing across the street at Borders for almost 30 minutes, came back (it was after 2 by now) and they told me it would just be 5 more minutes. And then they started cooking the sandwich--and it was more like 15 minutes. So, while we despair that they don't have enough customers, I have to admit, i was extremely frustrated that, given the status quo, they couldn't handle an in-person take out order in a timely manner. Sigh.

                                1. re: coffeebrownies
                                  b
                                  bulavinaka May 20, 2010 06:49 PM

                                  I hate to say that I had the same experience about two months ago. Seems they might have had a staffing issue that afternoon/early evening - at least that's what I gathered from the conversations and phone calls that I could hear while waiting before and after my Borders trip as well. I've said it before and despite what others say, I think that location is killing them.

                                  1. re: bulavinaka
                                    omotosando May 20, 2010 07:41 PM

                                    I agree that the location is a bad one. While it is fine inside, the place lacks "curb appeal" and I think people factor that in when choosing where to dine. That part of Westwood Blvd. is dreary and the restaurant doesn't have an inviting look from the outside.

                                    I also agree that is bad about the service issues. Seems like it is a vicious cycle - not enough customers, so not enough staff (or staff not well trained), which frustrates the few customers, who then become fewer. And so on.

                                    1. re: omotosando
                                      c
                                      coffeebrownies May 21, 2010 12:07 PM

                                      I agree as far as dinner is concerned. But, they are 2 blocks from a huge number of offices, and there aren't that many restaurants at their price range ($5.00 sandwiches--$10.00 meals!) in the vicinity. If you look at the food cart explosion on the Miracle Mile (where there are less offices) you realize that there is a huge opportunity for take out and quick eat in lunches in Westwood, which they could take better advantage of.

                                      1. re: coffeebrownies
                                        b
                                        bulavinaka May 21, 2010 12:33 PM

                                        >>If you look at the food cart explosion on the Miracle Mile (where there are less offices) you realize that there is a huge opportunity for take out and quick eat in lunches in Westwood, which they could take better advantage of.<<

                                        I totally agree with this, but I'd hope that Alcazar would promote themselves locally. Do you know if they do? Another issue is that they don't seem to be set up for being quick on their feet. Don't get me wrong - I've watched, listened and smelled the goings-on in their kitchen - they do everything right and I commend them for it. They don't cut corners. But I think this hurts them in the "quick eat in lunch in Westwood" category. They could use the equivalent of a Chinese line cook consulting them on this issue.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                          c
                                          coffeebrownies May 21, 2010 01:36 PM

                                          They have a sandwich board on the sidewalk, but I wish they would sneak itno the office buildings and drop menus like some of the pushier restaurants do. (And maybe get to know the front security desks, too). I think the efficiency is one thing, but I also think they are a little ADD about things--i don't know why they can't start an order until the customer is standing there (or can't quite get the sides correct).

                                          I will continue to go there though, and bring my colleagues, too.

                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                            e
                                            epop Aug 29, 2010 12:09 AM

                                            A couple issues I see. It isn't Persian (in that 'hood) and it isn't inexpensive, by student standards, unless you know how to order. I tend to order a lot of mezze, even if alone.

                                            There is no excuse for mistakes on an order. Yes, they can be slow, and that's part of having food made to order.

                                            I went to Sunnin this week (much improved since in their new location) and ordered two of the same dish and got home and they gave me one correctly but replaced the other with something totally different. The same thing happens every time I order from Darya (which I happen not to like all that much, but it is probably the best Persian on this side of town).

                                            I still love Alcazar. Yes, the ambiance could be better. But the owner is an unusually kind man who goes out of his way to invite you into his world.

                                2. lil mikey Aug 28, 2010 07:52 PM

                                  Good news: Even during Ramadan, the front section of this place was full for lunch on a Friday. Babaganouj is still the best I've had. Friendly, helpful service. Refills of pita as needed.

                                  Bad news: Half-hour wait for the main course, salad dressing was basically lemon juice, rendering the bottom half of the salad inedible, chicken was overcooked and arid.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: lil mikey
                                    omotosando Aug 28, 2010 10:54 PM

                                    I agree that the babaganouj is superb. I have always liked the salad dressing. Sorry to hear about the chicken. I hope they have not changed cooks. The chicken always used to be perfect.

                                  2. e
                                    epop Aug 29, 2010 12:11 AM

                                    btw, I wrote this in a separate post but the two times I had the whole branzino it was the best preparation of fish I've had on the west coast.

                                    1. omotosando Sep 25, 2010 07:10 PM

                                      Stopped by for takeout. I fear the end may be near. There is now a sign that they are closed Saturday and Sunday. Place was deserted at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday night (also true of all the rest of the restaurants on the block -- that stretch of Westwood Blvd. has become rather depressing).

                                      In addition to my usual order, they now have mantee -- Armenian ravioli -- on the menu. It was
                                      delicious. I think the location is killing them.

                                      17 Replies
                                      1. re: omotosando
                                        b
                                        bulavinaka Sep 25, 2010 10:31 PM

                                        Westwood in general has become rather stark on weekends. We've found it to be so easy to access on a weekend night. I don't know if this hood has a chamber of commerce, but they need to start promoting this area before it turns into a ghost town.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                          k
                                          kevin Sep 26, 2010 12:13 AM

                                          really? ghostown? why is this happening?

                                          i definitely have to get out there within the next few days hopefully, they close in between lunch and dinner ? especially for the mantee raviolis and the lamajune.

                                          what else is good to get? i tried it once about a year ago, but was not extravagantly impressed.

                                          1. re: kevin
                                            Servorg Sep 26, 2010 06:22 AM

                                            If Westwood wants to appeal to the student population they need to be more of a "Telegraph Ave." type of dining/shopping area like up in Berkeley. In other words, lots of cheap ethnic eateries from around the world. But the biggest change is the lack of a destination area for outside locals to flock to. In the old days it was the mega blockbuster movie experience shared by hundreds of fans at one of the large theaters. Now movie goers are looking for a "multiplex" experience and mall dining/shopping venue - which Westwood simply does not offer. And the perceived/actual difficulty in finding reasonable parking still hurts the Village.

                                            1. re: Servorg
                                              b
                                              bulavinaka Sep 26, 2010 07:03 AM

                                              Bingo!

                                              1. re: Servorg
                                                c
                                                carter Sep 26, 2010 10:14 PM

                                                Irony should have it, but the parking charge is not expensive in Westwood Village, compared with nearby areas, yet its perception of being expensive is acute.
                                                However the problem is the fact that there are no places you would want to go for dinner, parking costs notwithstanding.
                                                And Alcazar will be closing sooner than later, fwiw!

                                                1. re: carter
                                                  c
                                                  condiment Sep 26, 2010 11:55 PM

                                                  Much sooner. Emphasis is back on the Encino restaurant, which just reopened. They could never quite make a go of it in Westwood.

                                                  1. re: condiment
                                                    omotosando Sep 27, 2010 03:08 PM

                                                    All the pity for we Westsiders. There are a plethora of places for Armenian and Middle Eastern food in the Valley, but we have almost nothing on the Westside. So now we will be stuck again with only Sunnin, which pales in comparison with Alcazar. (Try asking for a special order at Sunnin and you will be told they can't do it because the food is all premade -- tells you everything you need to know). Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

                                                    1. re: omotosando
                                                      b
                                                      bulavinaka Sep 27, 2010 06:54 PM

                                                      I don't know if you've tried Mezza in DT Culver City yet, but if you haven't, it's worth a go. Their menu is more basic, but they do a great job on those items. And if you go for dinner, parking is free after 6:30PM in the lot just to the west of Mezza.

                                                      1. re: bulavinaka
                                                        e
                                                        epop Nov 21, 2010 10:15 AM

                                                        I didn't care for Mezza all that much. Crowded, lousy ambiance. I think it would be fine if it were close to me but definitely not a destination.

                                                        1. re: epop
                                                          b
                                                          bulavinaka Nov 21, 2010 03:57 PM

                                                          The ambiance is lacking - it's nice enough but still can be better. But given the relatively small area they designate for dining, it's about all they can do. But it's crowded for a reason - at least in IMHO - it's plenty good for most, including me...

                                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                                            Servorg Nov 21, 2010 04:52 PM

                                                            That reminded me of the Yogi Berra saying: "No one goes there any more; it's too crowded." ;-D>

                                                            And don't Chowhounds traditionally rate food way over ambiance or even crowded conditions in any case?

                                                            1. re: Servorg
                                                              b
                                                              bulavinaka Nov 22, 2010 05:46 PM

                                                              Yeah, Yogi was whirling around in my mind as well. Mezza could use a slightly larger dining room, but I've rarely waited longer than 15 minutes for a table so I'm not to complain...

                                                  2. re: carter
                                                    omotosando Sep 27, 2010 03:18 PM

                                                    I think there is a further problem with the restaurants south of Wilshire in that no one wants to pay to park in the Village and then walk south and cross Wilshire. The parking situation south of Wilshire is not great. Strangely, when I went to pick up food at Alcazar on Friday night, every restaurant on the same block was deserted, yet there were no parking places. People must be parking for the nail salons and what not. Sadly, that area has devolved into a cheap nail salon neighborhood, not a dining destination.

                                            2. re: omotosando
                                              n
                                              New Trial Nov 21, 2010 10:07 AM

                                              I tried to go last night and can confirm it is now closed, with new signage up for a place called "Lina's Express" and "Under New Management." Closed Saturday and Sunday so I was unable to try the food if I was so inclined but the posted menu was still from Alcazar Express. Disappointing as it was my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in the area.

                                              -----
                                              Alcazar Express
                                              1303 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024

                                              1. re: New Trial
                                                k
                                                kevin Nov 21, 2010 01:51 PM

                                                is it possibly still related to alcazar? i noticed that too.

                                                1. re: kevin
                                                  n
                                                  New Trial Nov 21, 2010 03:42 PM

                                                  I am not sure but tend to think not. The name change and "new management" sign, as well as the lack of a mention on the Alcazar website (though it still has "Alcazar Express" as a link so perhaps not the best indicator) all bode against.

                                                  1. re: New Trial
                                                    b
                                                    bulavinaka Nov 21, 2010 03:55 PM

                                                    From reading about Alcazar over the past few months or so, I got the impression that, while the original location in the valley was being remodeled, the Westwood location was kind of a way station for Alcazar until the original location got back up on its feet again...

                                            3. westsidegal Sep 26, 2010 07:00 PM

                                              not exactly on topic,
                                              but the falafal they served me last week was really terrific.

                                              1. c
                                                coffeebrownies May 13, 2011 04:27 PM

                                                Alcazar Express, which had been reopened under somehow related ownership as Lina's Place, seems to be no more at all, although there is another Lebanese place opening up the street. Anyone know anything more?

                                                -----
                                                Alcazar Express
                                                1303 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024

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