Sometimes we just get incredibly fortunate with a bumper crop of restaurants following a unique theme. Of late, it's the onslaught of great Middle Eastern restaurants. One of the reasons may be that the cuisine wholeheartedly and easily lends itself to the kind of fare health-conscious denizens of L.A. enjoy. Dishes sing with flavor from exotic, though far from unapproachable, spices and ambrosial herbs and fresh vegetables augmented by the myriad riches of various farmers markets around Los Angeles. Here are a few of our new favorites.
This distinctive Middle Eastern bistro (pronounced “meh zeh”) deals in simple dishes loaded with fresh, lively produce from local farmers markets. Suffice to say, the dishes are packed with flavor. For instance, the prosaic potato is butterflied, skin on, and placed under a broiler for a couple minutes. Then it's brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. It's the paragon of simplicity. The pithy but well-curated menu (casually scrawled in Sharpie on a brown paper bag) includes whole fried cauliflower striped with a piquant black sesame tahini. Picturesque seasonal green peas ride shotgun on a bed of creamy burrata cheese. There's a fine grilled rib-eye côte de boeuf, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, in case you've had your fill of fresh veggies. Chef-owner Conor Shemtov has brought his creative vision of Israeli cuisine, heavenly inspired and indebted to acclaimed Israeli chef/cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi, to a bustling corner of Silver Lake. Reservations are exceedingly hard to come by, and the food takes considerable time to arrive out of the tiny kitchen, which is barely larger than a ship's galley. Yet it's still worth that special trip.
3536 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 636-7598.
Loosely translated as “fate,” the incredibly popular East Hollywood restaurant from Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson (proprietors of the Madcapra falafel stand in downtown's Grand Central Market), is continually mobbed for a valid reason. Indeed, it may just be one of the toughest reservations in town. The big-ticket item seems to be the $80 rabbit feast for two, composed of a pair of rabbit legs, a rabbit stew and skewered rabbit kebabs. Despite the imprimatur of a hefty price tag, the feast is far from their best dish. The distinctive salads loaded with fresh produce and laced with aromatic herbs are the type of cuisine health-conscious Californians love. The menu is littered with ingredients such as harissa, rosewater, za'atar and Persian cucumbers. They take exotic Middle Eastern foods and put their idiosyncratic stamp on it. The jeweled crispy rice, laced with a runny egg yolk that coats the rice as you plunge your fork in, will remind you of Persian tahdig. The freekeh fritters (looking awfully similar to expertly fried falafel balls) are paired with a bright green sauce surely inspired by Israeli zhug, an incendiary sauce based on fiery hot chili peppers. The talented duo have reimagined humble Middle Eastern cuisine, meticulously attuning it to urbane, contemporary L.A. tastes. And Kismet serves a refreshingly killer rosewater lemonade spritzer to boot.
4648 Hollywood Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 409-0404, kismetlosangeles.com.
Soom Soom Fresh Mediterranean
Quietly opening recently in Beverly Grove, Soom Soom (translated as “sesame sesame”) serves up classic Middle Eastern staples in a no-frills, counter-service atmosphere: Think airy falafel balls, mouthwatering shwarma, and grilled kebabs served with a plethora of toppings, Chipotle-style, from creamy hummus to addictive amba (mango-based hot sauce) to a fiery zhug. The quick-service surroundings belie tremendously well-honed flavor, skilled craftsmanship and quality ingredients. The succulent chicken shwarma, carved straight from the vertical spit, hits all the right taste receptors and may just transport you to the hefty, filling pita sandwiches topped with fries that you may remember with relish from your last trip to Tel Aviv. Furthermore, you rarely find the justly famed Israeli spin on lemonade called lemonnna, which contains the crucial element of muddled mint leaves, much of anywhere else in L.A. Here you can have glass after glass of this restorative tonic.
8744 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; (310) 888-8804, soomsoomfresh.com; additional locations in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles.
Despite the passing of the guard from the now-defunct Simon's Cafe to the significantly hipper Mizlala, Simon's signature coarsely ground merguez sausages have been proudly carried over to the new menu. Once chef Simon Elmaleh retired, his son, Daniel, took over the reins of the modest neighborhood Moroccan cafe. With big shoes to fill, he has revamped the menu in a creatively novel direction informed by his long tenure with the SBE Hospitality Group. Rustic root vegetables are subtly sauced with tahini and apple cider vinaigrette. Grilled branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) is paired with a tart labneh (Israeli strained yogurt). The menu also features aggressively spiced lamb kefta kebabs that may just become your newest addiction. And the long-simmered tajines seem to be even lighter than before. The stodgy, old-world Casablanca-esque decor of the previous restaurant has been supplanted by a more modern, less cluttered, minimalist environment complete with an urbane, expansive open kitchen. It's still a family operation (those merguez sausages are dutifully made according to Simon's recipe) that has taken a delicious new approach to Moroccan cuisine.
4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 783-6698, facebook.com/pg/MizlalaRestaurant/about/?ref=page_internal.