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The Kosher Corridor 

A restaurant renaissance in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood

Thursday, Nov 3 2011
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During a stroll along Pico near Robertson on a typical Saturday, the usually lively street seems strangely deserted. There are families visiting each other's homes or walking to and from shul, but aside from a handful of Thai and Chinese restaurants, a diner, a deli and a drugstore, most of the shops are shuttered. Of course: It's shabbos, the day of rest for observant Jews, who make up much of the area's population.

Come back later — after sunset or on Sunday or any weekday — and it's an entirely different scene. Crowds spill out of cafés, kebab houses, pizza joints and fro-yo shops. Here on Pico Boulevard, from Beverly Drive on the west to La Cienega on the east, business is booming in the area known as the Kosher Corridor.

Pico has always had its share of intriguing restaurants, and this stretch is no exception. Fond memories linger of the Magic Carpet, a long-gone Yemeni restaurant. One of West L.A.'s great greasy spoons, the distinctly non-kosher Nick's, still draws crowds.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GUZZLE & NOSH - Kabab Mahaleh's beef koobideh
  • PHOTO BY GUZZLE & NOSH
  • Kabab Mahaleh's beef koobideh

Location Info

But although this neighborhood has long been home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish populations in the city, for years, kosher diners had all too few options. They generally ranged from stultifying and overpriced to greasy and unappealing.

That has changed. More new eateries have opened along the Kosher Corridor in the past couple years than in the previous decade. Whether Orthodox Jews are becoming foodies or they're simply hitting a critical mass to build a thriving clientele for the restaurant base, the Kosher Corridor is in the middle of a restaurant renaissance, and you don't have to keep kosher to enjoy the spoils.

Here are our top five eats along the Kosher Corridor:

MexiKosher

Open since July, the city's only kosher Mexican restaurant delivers what it promises: tacos and burritos, carne asada and birria, salsa and guacamole, all made under Kehilla kosher supervision. Chef Katsuji Tanabe formerly cooked at Shiloh's, a kosher steakhouse only a few blocks west of MexiKosher, where he won over skeptical diners — and kosher inspectors — with his "bacon" burger (the bacon is made from beef navel). Everything at MexiKosher is solid, though it costs $2-$3 more than you'd pay at a comparable non-kosher restaurant. The chicken wings, glazed and sweet with just a bit of spice, are a winner. The best dish is carnitas, a succulent mix of beef and duck with just the right amount of fat. Chopped into soft, dripping bits, it's piled with pickled onions, cilantro and pico de gallo. Nothing here is very spicy, but you can add heat with one of MexiKosher's dozen house-made sauces. This isn't any quantum leap forward, but it is solid, tasty Mexican food for a demographic that deserves more compelling dining options. 8832 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 271-0900, mexikosher.com.

Shawarma Palace

This Israeli take on shawarma features chicken or lamb that's been rubbed and marinated in some magical combination of salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and who knows what else. It's grilled on a spit where flames lovingly lick at the meat until it's both crisp and tender, then served on fluffy pita. The basic dish here is a variation on the shawarma plate, large enough to easily feed two people and served with an assortment of Middle Eastern salads: hummus, pickled vegetables, smoky baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, creamy beets, red cabbage, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes. Shawarma Palace also makes falafels, kosher burgers, a few other Mediterranean sandwiches and even spaghetti, but the best reason to come here is the meat. 8879 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 777-0402.

Kabab Mahaleh

In a neighborhood so immersed in Persian culture and cuisine, it shouldn't be hard to find a good kebab. It shouldn't be, but it is. Tucked unprepossessingly between a rug store and a Walgreen's, Kabab Mahaleh is a hidden gem and the best budget dining option on the Kosher Corridor. Locals flock to the Glatt Kosher eatery for its koobideh: turmeric-laced skewers of minced ground beef or chicken served with grilled tomatoes, onions, sprigs of lemony basil and freshly baked sangak, a chewy, sourdough flatbread. At $5.99 for a hearty one-skewer plate, it's a killer deal. You get plenty of sangak with your order, but if that isn't enough — and considering how good it is, it likely may not be — you can take home "loaves" of the stuff, for $3 each. The sangak alone is worth the price of admission, but happily, Kabab Mahaleh also makes kebabs that are worth an extended visit. 8762 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 275-3000.

Jeff's Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory

Whether it's lunchtime or late at night, this place gets packed. It's easy to see why after a bite of the Cajun chicken sausage or the merguez. Jeff's, which has been wowing locals for more than a decade, specializes in an array of house-made sausages, all without pork. There's kosher kielbasa, veal bratwurst and Italian sausages, but there are also more obscure sausages like a South African boerewors with its distinct flavor of nutmeg, cloves and allspice. You could go for a simple all-beef hot dog, a thing of beauty, served on a bun and piled with grilled onions and peppers, if you so choose. The jalapeño-spiked dog also is a treat. Owner and consummate deli man Jeff Rohatiner makes his own corned beef, salami and pastrami from scratch. 8930 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 858-8590, jeffsgourmet.com.

Komodo

One of the first food trucks to open a brick-and-mortar location, Komodo offers clean, light Southeast Asian–tinged fare. The restaurant, which serves as the prep kitchen for the truck while also doing a healthy takeout business, sits at the heart of the Kosher Corridor near the corner of Pico and Robertson, but it definitely isn't kosher. In fact, one of its best dishes is the pork rending, shredded pork in a moderately spicy red curry sauce. Brothers and co-owners Eric and Erwin Tjahyadi also do salads, sandwiches, tacos and rice bowls, all of them a mash-up of market-driven California cuisine and Asian influences. Komodo does best when it sticks to the latter, like the lightly sweet mochiko Hawaiian fried chicken or strips of chicken marinated in soy, grilled and topped with mandarin orange slices. 8809 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 246-5153, komodofood.com.

Reach the writer at elinashatkin@gmail.com

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