Sunnin, the popular, longstanding Lebanese restaurant, and Alcazar, Encino's oft adored Lebanese-Armenian joint, both have newish digs of sorts on Westwood Boulevard. Sunnin was a small café that simply moved across the street to a larger space, while Alcazar opened a second, smaller location called Alcazar Express. While both have diverse and exciting menus, today's food fight takes a look at a simple to-go lunch that everyone can enjoy: the chicken shawerma sandwich. Shaved, seasoned chicken, thrust inside of a pita is the perfect lunch while reclined at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or even hunched over your computer during a hectic Thursday at the office. But whose is better? Let's find out.
At Alcazaar Express, you may just want a sandwich, but you're going to get some edible accompaniment as well. While the sandwich itself, at $7.95, is not particularly large, it does come with a perhaps-too-generous pile of pita, a container of olives and pickled turnips, as well as your choice of side (hummus, baba ghanouj, rice or salad). While we do appreciate the additional accouterments, this is, in the end, about the sandwich. The chicken, while dry, is quite flavorful, and is re-hydrated nicely by the garlic paste, lettuce and broiled tomatoes. The chicken itself does come through as the primary component, and when you do happen upon the bits of pickles that managed to isolate themselves, on this particular occasion, from the majority of the sandwich, it makes for a satisfying treat.
In the end though, we were left looking at the takeout menu, eager for a taste of their other sandwiches, like the Alcazar Signature (chicken kabob and french fries), halloumi (a delicious cheese), beef brain, or lamb tongue. In fact, we might have requested one of these when we called in our order, had their website not been so hilariously under construction, containing only a jaunty, musical white page with a green frame.
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Sunnin, meanwhile, does not bother with sides. You ordered a sandwich ($6.50), and that is what you shall receive. It is much larger, and wetter. It has tahini, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce and pickled turnips. It is messier, the flavors weave in and out clumsily, and it does not particularly taste of chicken. But it is delicious, perhaps fulfilling those same childlike pleasures as a sloppy, wet burrito. It is less precise, less concentrated and perhaps inevitably, exactly what we want to be eating during a hurried lunch with one hand on the steering wheel. But who knows? Things may change with a little lamb tongue thrown in.