"You should open a restaurant." It's one the highest compliments talented home cooks everywhere can get after sharing their dishes with friends and co-workers. For Marianella Robles, the compliment rung in her head. And when she saw an opportunity to open up a small restaurant in her neighborhood of Lincoln Heights, she called her then boss and fellow home cook, Victor Kyundibekian, and together they partnered to open Armex, Lincoln Height's new Armenian and Mexican restaurant.
Robles is no stranger to the restaurant business: her aunt used to own a restaurant in the same neighborhood. But as an adult, she was making her career as a secretary at one of Kyundibekian's manufacturing businesses. In the tight knit office, she would bring in Mexican food for her co-workers. Kyundibekian would also cook for the office, and Robles especially looked forward to when he would make his specialty, kabobs.
Open since August, Armex's interior is bright and the service friendly. Place your order at a window and on occasion they will warn that certain dishes might take a little longer than others because they are cooked to order. Waiting in a room colored a shade known throughout Mexico as taqueria green, they send over a plate of chips covered in casually smashed refried beans and soft queso fresco.
Armex's menu is dominated by the taqueria standards: tacos, tortas and combo plates. The Armenian dishes are centered around kabobs, sish kabobs with chunks of marinated beef, chicken or pork and lule kabobs of seasoned ground chicken or beef. Armex's kabob plates are a hefty, served over sumac-scented rice with a grilled tomato along with the choice of either a bright Armenian salad or tahini rich hummus. Included as a garnish, a chile grilled to the point of melting, which acts as a spicy bridge to all the flavors on the plate. This was the first hint that these kabobs might actually work best when used as fillings for the Mexican items.
Armex's kabobs are flame-grilled to the point of char on the outside that is not carbon exactly, but more like caramelized meat. Although similar styles of meat are found in Mexico, such as Northern Mexico's mesquite grilled carne asada and Yucatan's poc chuc, this is a rare attribute to find in a city full of taquerias, where the choice of meats is between those that braise and those that are griddled. And instead of the bright citrus that dominates the flavor of Mexican marinades like el pastor, the flavors of Armex's meats are about depth. Kyundibekian developed his own marinade with the flavors of garlic, coriander, and pepper, which penetrates deep into center of the chunks of meat.
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In tacos, the meats are chopped, creating pops of flavorful char and juicy tender meat. However, the torta, especially when filled with the pork kabob, is the standout. Telera rolls are toasted on both sides and then smeared with Robles' beans. The pork for the torta is cut into slabs so that the tender pieces yield within the sandwich and all its contents. Eating chunks of splitting pork this way, they seem more like a pungent version of carnitas, taken from the cazo and then immediately placed on a grill.
After several visits, consistency among the different kabobs and Mexican dishes has been solid. The red table salsa has remained unforgiving and the large spears of house pickled jalapenos and carrots are crisp. More often than not, we've see Robles peeking out from behind the kitchen, smiling.
Armex: 3406 North Broadway, Los Angeles, (323) 221-7771