You happen to be in Westwood, but you've exhausted all of the Persian kebab joints. You want something different. Then catty-corner from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Westwood's Little Persia, you notice a small Turkish cafe calling to you. Open just over a year, the Google-unfriendly The Kitchen @Westwood is run by owner-chef Huseyin Ilhan, who immigrated to Los Angeles more than 13 years ago from his native Denizli in southwestern Turkey. He has devised a simple, comforting menu of Turkish classics.
The Kitchen's counter-service interior does not look much different from the previous inhabitant, the justly famed, health-conscious Fresh Corn Grill, which moved to a more expansive, cavernous storefront just a couple blocks up Westwood Boulevard.
But the menu is widely divergent from its predecessor. The signature plate is the iskender kebab. Iskender is not like the grilled meat on a stick many Americans associate with the work "kebab." Instead, this is heavily seasoned, marinated beef carved off a vertical rotisserie spit, similar to Middle Eastern shawarma. It's like doner kebab. The flavor profile is essentially a cross between said shawarma and Greek gyros.
Iskender kebab is then covered in warm tomato sauce and served with thick yogurt, which balances the heaviness of the meat. The dish got its name from a 19th-century chef named Iskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa, Anatolia (formerly part of the Ottoman Empire and what is now modern Turkey) and created the satisfying dish. There are only a handful of restaurants in Los Angeles that serve it.
The menu includes a range of California-Turkish fusion dishes such as Anatolian tortilla salad, loaded with tortilla strips, black olives and feta cheese, and the aptly named Kitchen Fusion: greens, kale, broccoli, strawberries, chopped apples, sliced almonds and a pomegranate vinaigrette.
Traditional manti also are served out of the tiny kitchen. These are tiny, Turkish dumplings filled with finely minced beef and sauced with paprika-spiced yogurt. On the plate, the dumplings look like an amalgam of Chinese XLB and meticulously pleated Italian tortellini.
Sometimes the Kitchen offers specials such as pide (pronounced pee-deh). You should order it. It is a Turkish version of pizza filled with cheese and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. Some are filled with ground beef or pepperoni, too. The pepperoni is all beef at The Kitchen, as all meats here are certified halal (permitted food according to Islamic law). The airy, pillowy pide is folded into a canoe shape.
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And for dessert? There's high-octane, bitter Turkish coffee served in vintage silver coffee cups. Take the top off and sip slowly. For those who haven't tried Turkish coffee, it is as strong as a triple shot of espresso. The baklava is composed of several layers of fragile filo dough that shatters upon first bite. This subtle baklava is ever so lightly held together with a subdued honey syrup that is not too sweet, and topped with pistachios.