The semantics for stuffed grape leaves have gone totally haywire. Though commonly referred to as dolma, they technically should go by the appellation sarma, a Turkish word that means "to wrap." Dolma, also Turkish, refers to big stuffed vegetables, usually red or green peppers, filled with a flavored meat mixture. Most Greek restaurants still refer to their stuffed grape leaves as dolmades, so for the purpose of this story, we'll call the Greek grape leaves by this name.
Dolmades are quite plain -- flavored only with dill, lemon juice, cucumber and yogurt, as opposed to their Middle Eastern counterparts that are stuffed with several other ingredients, including stewed tomatoes, parsley, red peppers, paprika or cayenne, and in some cases nuts. Despite their simplicity, Greek dolmades are still mouth-watering, as are the more complex sarma. Whether you're eating them as meze or as a quick lunch on the run, stuffed grape leaves are refreshing, filling and wholly addictive.6. Papa Cristo's Taverna:
Papa Cristo's is to Greek food what Mercado Buenos Aires is to Argentine cuisine -- a restaurant, bakery and bazaar of foodstuffs offering everything from Greek olives to frozen phyllo dough to Greek booze. You can buy seven dolmades for $5.99, or, if you want to buy in bulk, $39.99 buys you 75 pieces with tzatziki, the bright cucumber yogurt sauce. These are shorter than sarma, about two inches in length, and, as mentioned above, they're stuffed with a simple recipe of rice, dill, lemon juice and a very light yogurt sauce. As a testament to their freshness (a real must with dolmades), the grape leaves are nice and tender -- nobody wants to chew through leathery grape leaves, no matter how inebriated you may be from ouzo. 2771 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-737-2970.5. Zankou Chicken, Hollywood:
You will be thoroughly disappointed if you walk into any of the Zankou Chicken satellites, offshoots from the original "fast-casual" restaurant in Hollywood, and try to order sarma. They won't have them. We know. We've tried it. We've tried it more than once. The only Zankou Chicken that sells stuffed grape leaves is the Hollywood restaurant. Though they arrive cold in a plastic to-go container, they are still pretty damn good. Unlike the grape leaves from Papa Cristo's, these have a big gust of flavor and a decent amount of heat. Because dolmades is a dish best served at room temp, it's best to let these sit out for thirty minutes so you can get the most bang for your $5.99. 5065 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-665-7842.