Ground meat, seasoned and cooked, is like religion: every culture in the world seems to come up with it, or at the very least, to personalize it. An American hamburger, an Italian meatball, an Argentinian beef empanada — all delightful, all distinctively representative of their own nations. In the Middle East, there are many different versions of the same basic dish, most of them with different variations on the same word and principles. The Lebanese version is kafta, and it is the subject of today's food fight.
Our battle began in Sherman Oaks, at constantly bustling lunch spot Pita Kitchen. It's a simple order-at-the-counter, pick-up-at-the-window joint with affordable prices, Styrofoam plates, and fairly quick service. The beef kafta plate comes with two sides and a sizable pile of rustic, roughly constructed seasoned beef resting atop some rice. It's a lot of food for ten dollars, with the charred bits and noticeable grill marks balancing against the juiciness of the meat. The mixture of spices comes through nicely, and it is an enjoyable though not transcendent plate. The oddity though is in the bottles of Mexican Tapatío hot sauce on all the tables, which add a surprising level of complexity to the beef, really highlighting the flavors of the meat.
For our next version, we tried out the new Lebanese addition to downtown Culver City, Mezza. It is more stylish here (they do have servers and metal silverware after all), but the kafta kabob plate with two sides and rice is still a very reasonable $12.50. As the name of the dish indicates, these are cooked on skewers, formed into two long cylinders. There is more control in the cooking here, the meat is slightly sweeter, and the aromatics bring a welcome freshness to the plate. It is also slightly drier, though it seems intentional. The flavor is more contained, more precise and the sides seem to complement better as well. Were it not for that miraculous addition of Tapatío at Pita Kitchen, this battle would not be close. It cannot, however, make up all the ground and thus Mezza stands victorious.