Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mien, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.
It's pretty much impossible to find 100% Armenian pastries (and cuisine, for that matter) in Los Angeles, or on the planet in general, given the perennial displacement of so many Armenians from their mother country. As a result of this cultural crossover, most Armenian bakeries sport influences and offerings from Lebanon, Russia, Turkey, Greece and even Mexico, thanks to the multiculturalism present in the average Los Angeles strip mall.
But if you're in the know, you can certainly track down some quintessential Armenian baked goods. Lahmajune, a flatbread covered in a piquant layer of smashed lamb -- make sure it's lamb, not beef! -- can be purchased all over the greater Los Angeles area, and choreg, a braided sweet bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, can be bought at the nearest Jons. All these offerings will be spelled differently, pronounced differently, and maybe even prepared differently, depending on the bakers' region or country of emigration, so don't be surprised if you ask for "choreg" and the person behind the counter asks you if you want "cheese or spinach?" thinking you mean "borek," a clunky savory turnover. Turn the page for our top 5 Armenian bakeries.
5. Goldstar Bakery:
This is one of the few spots for gata, a rolled sweet with an appearance similar to the Jewish rugulah, its doughy folds lathered with sugared butter. It's a common decadence among Russian Armenians, and at Goldstar you'll also find a spread of delicate Russian "tabouchka" (more commonly known as trubochki), a three-inch pastry horn filled with sweet cream. They also make fresh Armenian breads and a petite tres leches cake, but they get the gold star (and the mention) for their gata. (Note: If you go to Paradise Bakery, listed below, and ask for gata, you will get a thick flaky bread.) 5216 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; 323-660-8900.
4. Sarkis Pastry:
If you want a delectable variety of bite-size Armenian and Middle Eastern cookies, head to Sarkis Pastry in Glendale or Pasadena. Mammoul, a flaky shortbread cocoon dusted in powdered sugar and filled with orange blossom watered pistachios, is superb. And, to add more confusion to the macaroon, the Middle Eastern variety has nothing in common with either the French macaron (those colorful meringue cookies smeared all over Bottega Louie's face) or the American macaroon (spongy balls of shredded coconut). Yansoon (anise seed) macaroons at Sarkis are airy finger-shaped biscuits covered in a delicate sweet syrup. 1111 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale; (818) 956-6636. 1776 E Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 398-3999.
Though we can thank the Greeks for their politics, mathematics, and philosophy, let's not laud them alone for baklava. If you're salivating for 12 varieties of the honey-soaked, walnut-filled phyllo turnover, head over to Ara's Pastry where you can gorge on samples that include kadayif (shredded phyllo), almonds and pistachios. They make all of their dough from scratch, and it pays off; their baklava is fresh and tender and not overly syrupy like so many you find around town. These delicate renditions of the ubiquitous standard make a great (and cheap) finger food for any party. An inch-wide "Bird's Nest" of kadayif and almonds is visually arresting and unlike any of its Los Angeles counterparts. 4945 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-661-1116. 17607 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills; 818-368-3388.
2. Paradise Bakery:
Paradise is the place for fresh lavash and pita bread. Many Armenian grocers and delis get these classic flat breads from Fresno bakeries, so if you want them fresh, flaky, soft, and uber mouth-watering, check out the goods at Paradise. They also sell an array cookies, notably nazook, which is a rolled pastry similar to gata and available with custard or walnut filling, along with beautifully decorated cakes to order and a nice selection of the aforementioned borek, savory cheese and spinach turnovers. The bakery is adjoined to a deli and cafe, and it gets pretty packed, so bring some patience along with your appetite. 1831 W. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale; 818-242-4000.
Any Armenian will swear that Partamian's is the best spot for lahmajune in all of Southern California. This is absolutely 100% true. In addition to being the Lahmajune King, the bakery has become a Los Angeles landmark; its mid-city location has been cranking out the same recipe for 60+ years. It also boasts a heart-warming history. When owner and founder Leon Partamian died in 2007, he willed the bakery not to his family, but to two of his long-time employees, loyal artisans of the Armenian staple, both from Mexico. So if you've got a hankering for Pan Mexicano, you don't have to make a second trip, because this place sells a scrumptious assortment of fresh pan dulce. 5410 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-937-2870.
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Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer and a pastry cook at Lucques. Follow her on Facebook. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.