Although Mini Kabob in Glendale looks like a modest house repurposed into a commercial restaurant, describing it as like dining in someone's living room would be far too extravagant. You're basically eating at Ovakim and Alvard Martirosyan's modestly decorated kitchen counter.
Mini Kabob meets all the criteria of a great hole in the wall to the millimeter: 1) It's mom-and-pop operated, by first generation immigrants no less. 2) It's located in a tiny building on a narrow side street off Central Blvd. in Glendale, just south of developer Rick Caruso's behemoth Americana. 3) There are just three tables and eight chairs, all mismatched. 4) They serve high quality food in large portions at affordable prices. And 5) They're expert specialists.
The Martirosyans are hardly quaint novices. Rather they're restaurant veterans who've worked in or operated much larger ventures with much more expansive menus. For the time being, the confinements of their kitchen and dining space dictate specialization. Ovakim Martirosyan discusses the finer points of kabob butchering, meat grinding, proper fat ratios, marinating, searing and heat control with the precision of a classically trained French chef.
In the context of a hole-in-the-wall, it's tempting to describe Alvard Martirosyan as "lovingly" cooking the kabobs. But putting your heart into cooking is the seasoning, the unique flavor profile, the soul of a style that you stamp on after you've perfected basic techniques. And it would be a bit condescending to Alvard; a master of fire. She is an expert; highly capable of consistently cooking perfectly seared, beautifully colored and juicy kabobs. There is no par-cooking and re-heating here. All kabobs are cooked to order. The mini-kabobs take about 10 minutes and the larger kabobs take about 20-25 minutes. The Martirosyans will serve no kebob before it's time.
As with so many Armenian restaurants in Los Angeles, the menu has diasporic influences, a blend of western and eastern Armenian cooking, and idiosyncratic touches. Their falafel recipe was handed down from Ovakim's Egypt-raised mother. Ta'amiya (Egyptian falafels) are made with fava beans and are shaped like hockey pucks. Alvard is in charge of all garde manger preparations (cold dishes). Whereas Zankou Chicken's fabled garlic sauce is as thick as frosting, the Lebanese toum here is as light as mousse. The hummus is sprinkled with Syrian Aleppo pepper, but it's served with Armenian lavash, not Arab-Greek pita bread. Greek salad, Persian shirazi salad, and Lebanese tabule are also on the menu.
Armen, the Martirosyan's 23-year-old son, a culinary school graduate who recently joined the business full-time, helped his mother create an off menu dish they call "crazy salad". It's made with baby greens, dressed with a tahini-based vinaigrette following the classic French ratio of 1-part acid (lemon or vinegar) to 3-parts oil and topped with three falafels. Traditional Middle Eastern salad dressings typically have a more mouth puckering ratio of 1.5-2 parts acid to 2 parts oil.
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Though exceedingly chatty and gregarious with customers in Russian, Armenian and English, Ovakim clams up when asked for the specifics of a recipe. A perfectionist, he micromanages, exudes pride and is the first to criticize when his son doesn't plate hummus to his specifications. Armen shrugs off his father's comments. He's too busy taking photos of the dishes with his iPhone, working on the restaurant's new social media campaign, and dreaming up more dishes like the crazy salad.
313 Vine St., Glendale, CA 91204; (818) 244-1343. Open 363 days out of year; closed on New Year's day and Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
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