Flavors of the Near East
At Caroussel, eggplant salad is extremely simple, chopped with onion, tomato and green pepper, doused with lemon, garlic and olive oil, but delicious, the sort of earthy dish you might expect to be served in a country restaurant somewhere in Eastern Europe. Tabbouleh, chopped parsley salad brightly flavored with mint, tastes as green as it looks. But what almost everybody seems to order is one of the kebab platters, big piles of grilled, marinated pork or lamb or chicken or liver that come with roasted peppers, a grilled tomato, a good green salad. Each kebab is served with a stack of hot pita bread that has been smeared with a spicy tomato sauce. And you get a huge plate of pickles, too: green and black olives; chile-hot turnip sticks dyed scarlet with beet juice; soft slabs of salty feta cheese. 5112 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 660-8060. Open Tues.Sun. 11 a.m.10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $16$25. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V.
Danaian's Bakery/Uncle Jack's
Over in East Hollywood, Uncle Jack's lahmajune is a wafer-thin round thing, about the diameter of a hand-patted tortilla, smeared with a few grams of a garlicky tomato-meat stew. The edges of the pie are slightly burnt and crisp, with a faint matzolike flavor. The stew is spiked with still-crisp bits of green pepper and onion, and has a clean taste of fresh vegetables. There's a wholesome, handmade quality to this pie, like something somebody's mom could be famous for whipping up for PTA meetings. Zahtar bread, also known as manaish, is more of a pizza sort of deal, bubbly, thick round crust spread with a lemon-tart mixture of thyme and ground sumac berries, dusted with sesame seeds, chewy and crunchy as a good bagel, pungent with a spice fragrance unique to the Middle East. Armenians usually eat zahtar bread for breakfast, and in the Arab world it is customarily consumed as a snack. The bread -- crisp, consistent and complexly flavored -- tastes especially good with hot tea. 1108 N. Kenmore Ave.; (323) 664-8842. Open Mon.Sat. 7 a.m.6 p.m. Lahmajune 50 cents apiece. Takeout only. Cash only.
Order the combination dinner meza here: smooth, cool hummus, dressed with a splash of olive oil, garnished with a pine nut or two; the tart Lebanese thickened-yogurt "cheese" labneh, garnished with sprigs of mint; the pounded paste of veal and bulgur-wheat kibbe, either raw or formed into vaguely Sputnik-shaped capsules and deep-fried around a ground-beef forcemeat. The bitter herbal bite of tabbouleh, chopped parsley tossed with soft kernels of bulgur, is in sharp contrast to the richness of baba ghanoush, essentially hummus with roasted eggplant in place of the garbanzo purée. Fattoush, the best version around, is a salad of sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes, spiked with crunchy chips of toasted pita bread, sprinkled with tart ground sumac berries and tossed with a lemony vinaigrette. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd.; (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.Sun. 11 a.m.11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $14$22. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.
Middle East Restaurant
I like to come in here in the late afternoon for an indulgent lunch of smooth, cool raw kibbe, sort of a bulgur-studded Lebanese steak tartare (made from lamb). Monday there's lamb shank with vegetable-and-chicken curry. If it's Wednesday, there's a Jordanian specialty, mansaf lamb. If it's Thursday, there'll be couscous with chicken and baked kubbeh. Unlike most Lebanese restaurants, the Middle East makes something of a specialty of breakfast, giant affairs of scrambled eggs with the spicy Armenian sausage sujuk, or ground beef, or fresh tomato. Fatch is a fantastic mess of chickpeas, toasted pita, garlic and pine nuts -- fried in olive oil, doused in homemade yogurt -- which any sensible person would prefer to a Denver omelet even if he or she couldn't make much of a dent in the backpack-size pile of food. 910 E. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 281-1006. Open daily 10 a.m.10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12$20. Full bar. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, Disc., MC, V.
The Armenian cured beef called basturma may be the most powerfully flavored cold cut in the world, less a foodstuff than a force of nature, with a bit of the chewy translucence of first-rate Italian bresaola, a ripe, almost gamy back taste, and then -- pow! -- the onslaught of the seasoning, a caustic, bright-red slurry of hot pepper, fenugreek and a truly heroic amount of garlic that hits the palate with all the subtle elegance of a detonated land mine. The best place to try basturma in Los Angeles, or perhaps anywhere, is at Sahag's, a small, fragrant Armenian deli in the heart of East Hollywood. 5183 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 661-5311. Open Mon.Sat. 8 a.m.8 p.m., Sun. till 4 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $6. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
This is what you eat at Zankou: rotisserie-chicken sandwiches, excellent falafel, shwarma carved off the rotating spit and served warm with superbly caramelized edges. The hummus is fine and grainy, and the spit-roasted chickens are superb: golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, with developed chicken flavor, the kind of bird that makes you want to scour the carcass for stray bits of carbonized skin and delicious scraps of flesh. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, although a little bit of Zankou's Armenian garlic sauce -- a fierce, blinding-white paste, the texture of puréed horseradish, which sears the back of your throat, and whose powerful aroma can stay in your head (also your car) for days -- couldn't hurt. 5065 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 665-7842; open daily 10 a.m.mid. 1415 E. Colorado St., Glendale; (818) 244-2237; open daily 10 a.m.11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $5$9. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
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