There’s no question that Los Angeles’ vibrant dining scene would not be what it is today without the diverse melting pot of immigrants who make up our city. For what we lack in high-end, white-tablecloth establishments, we make up for in immigrant-owned-and-operated restaurants. These are the true gems of the city, allowing us a direct portal into unique cultures outside of our borders and personal bubbles.
The recent immigration ban by the Trump administration has left the Middle Eastern and North African community here in Los Angeles reeling. The presidential order stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars entry into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those seven countries are Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.
If the ban had happened years or decades earlier, some of our greatest restaurants would not exist. From Persian sandwiches to Iraqi grilled fish, our selection of cuisine from the greater Middle East and Africa is some of the best in the nation. We have entire communities dedicated to food from predominately Muslim countries. The Westwood area of L.A., lovingly dubbed Tehrangeles, has a handful of kabob restaurants within a couple of miles of one another and some of the best Persian pastries in the city. Elsewhere, there are many other international offerings, like a vegan food truck dedicated to falafels by way of Sudan; a bakery from Syria; and a Somalian eatery that really knows its way around goat meat. While the historical origin of these dishes can be complex, they all share a common ancestry.
We are celebratory of our immigrant communities here in Los Angeles; they are what make us unique. As a sign of appreciation, here’s a list of where to eat dishes from the seven countries banned by Trump.
Iran: Persian sandwiches from Attari Sandwich Shop
Attari specializes in Iranian sandwiches, featuring perfectly toasted bread stuffed with a meat of choice, such as tongue, brain or chicken. Tomatoes, lettuce and a smattering of pickles give it an extra layer of texture. Located in Tehrangeles, Attari is owned by the family that opened the first Persian convenience store in the area in the late 1980s. The food is made entirely from family recipes. Kabobs are plentiful here, served with Persian flatbread and greens. Don’t miss the ash, which is a thick, barley-based stew made with white and pinto beans drizzled with a bit of kashk, a zippy, yogurtlike cream.
1388 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (310) 441-5488, atarisandwiches.info.
Sudan: Falafel from Ihsan’s Falafel
Chef Amin Musa was born in Sudan, educated in Dubai and went to university in Canada. Trained in macrobiotic cooking, he is the driving force behind Ihsan, which is the Arabic word for kindness. Ihsan is a vegan falafel stand that can be found at farmers markets throughout the city. Give the collard green wrap a try. It forgoes the traditional wheat exterior for collard greens and is stuffed with five falafel balls, grated carrots and homemade turnip pickles. Don’t miss the traditional spicy peanut sauce, referred to in Sudan as dakwa. It's made with creamy peanut butter and jalapeños.
Various locations; see website for schedule. authenticfalafels.com.
Syria: Saj from Sarig’s Bakery
Owner Sako Dekirmanjian comes from Aleppo, Syria, where his grandfather ran a bakery. The saj, thin-crust bread baked on a convex metal grill, is a good way to start. It can be ordered with za'atar, an herb mixture of thyme, sesame seed and virgin olive oil, or paired with white cheese with homemade sausage. We like the laham b’ajin, which are Syrian open-faced meat pies stuffed with ground beef, pomegranate molasses and pine nuts. Don’t forgo the dessert menu, which pairs saj with Nutella, marshmallows and sliced almonds.
19253 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge. (818) 727-7443, sarigsbakery.com.
Somalia: Goat from Banadir Somali Restaurant
This halal mainstay specializes in goat meat, which permeates most of the menu. There’s goat soup, pressure-cooked goat and braised goat, usually accompanied by traditional Somali spices like cardamom, cloves, coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon and cumin. For breakfast, the anjero is the primary carb of choice. It’s a pancake-like bread similar to Ethiopia’s injera but smaller and thinner. It is served with savory toppings like goat, chicken or beef, or can be eaten as a dessert sprinkled with sugar or a bit of sesame oil and honey.
137 W. Arbor Vitae St., Inglewood. (310) 419-9900.
Yemen: Malawach from Toast Cafe
There aren’t any Yemeni-specific restaurants in Los Angeles (that we know of), but malawach is a staple that can be found in a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants throughout the region. You can get malawach at Toast Cafe in the San Fernando Valley. It’s a fantastic puff pastry that was popularized in Israel when the Yemenite Jews brought it over after immigrating in the 1950s. Yemen also has its own version of shakshouka, a baked egg-and-tomato dish that is popular for both breakfast and dinner. In Yemen, it’s distinguished by scrambled eggs and a liberal use of hot green chili peppers. 15001 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks. (818) 461-9020.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Libya: Tagine from Revolutionario
While restaurants dedicated to the food of Libya aren't apparent in Los Angeles, there is definitely not a shortage of places to get couscous, which is considered to be the national dish of Libya. There it is commonly prepared with slow-cooked beef, potatoes, carrots and garbanzo beans in a spicy tomato sauce. Tagine, another popular dish in Libya, can be found all over North Africa and, most commonly, in Morocco. We recommend the chickpea tagine tacos from Revolutionario near Exposition Park. It’s owned by Farid Zadi, who is considered Los Angeles’ foremost expert on North African cuisine. 1436 W. Jefferson Blvd., Exposition Park. (424) 223-3526, revolutionario.com.
Iraq: Kibbeh Mosul from Massif Mediterranean Grill
Massif has one of the most comprehensive Iraqi menus in the Los Angeles area. Owned and operated by Iraqis, it specializes in shawarma, which is significantly sweeter than the more established versions out there. A dash of cinnamon and cardamon renders it as one of the most flavorful in town. Kibbeh Mosul is a must. Ground meat with bulgur (cracked wheat) laced with cinnamon, it’s a staple that originates from Mosul in northern Iraq. It comes out like a moist, meat-stuffed pancake; a side of hummus is highly recommended. For big parties, a whole lamb can be pre-ordered. Don’t miss the masgouf — a grilled carp with lemon and herb, often considered the national dish of Iraq.
902 E. Colorado St., Glendale. (818) 245-6863.