Shakshuka is one of those dishes that, outside of Israel or North Africa, might best be enjoyed in the homes of Israeli friends. At least that's the way I've come to love the stew of tomatoes, red peppers and eggs, sopped up with crusty bread, on leisurely Sunday mornings. There are a few restaurants around town to get the dish, and Canteen Grill a new Israeli cafe that just opened on Melrose in the heart of West Hollywood, adds its name to the list of places that serve homestyle Israeli cooking, including a mean shakshuka.
Canteen Grill, which opened about two weeks ago, is owned by Omer Azar, an Israeli expat who has lived in Los Angles for eight years. His main hospitality experience comes from managing McDonald's in Israel, but he also worked in nightlife venues after moving to Los Angeles. Canteen Grill is Azar's first venture as an owner - a sunny little cafe where you order from a simple menu at the counter, then choose from unlimited accompaniments on the list of toppings.
All the dishes at Canteen Grill are served with laffa, the thin, chickpea-based bread common in Israel (it's also gluten-free). You can get any dish as a laffa wrap, or as a plate for a couple bucks more. Aside from shakshuka, offerings include chicken and beef kabobs, falafel, a pan-fried chicken they're calling schnitzel, and chicken parigot, hot-sauteed chicken thigh pieces with onion.
The parigot is a tiny bit bland on its own but becomes delicious when you add the magenta pickled onions from the toppings list, along with zhoug puree, the Yemeni hot green spice paste that Azar purees with tomatillos. It's totally addictive on the chicken.
There's also a sweet, spicy carrot harissa on the list of toppings, as well as a mild hummus and softly smoky baba ganoush. You also choose your starches from this list - cilantro rice, or garlic potatoes. The mix-and-match quality of the menu makes the possibilities for sandwich or platter creations practically endless.
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Whether you're dining in or taking food to-go, everything is served in black styrofoam containers, and the seating, while plentiful, is there for sitting and scarfing, not hanging out leisurely. That is, of course, unless you have work to get done: Canteen Grill offers free Wi-Fi.