One of the most aggravating things about moving to a new home is that you have to build up your list favorite restaurants anew. It involves a lot of traveling on and about in a new city, and then you have to parse through a lot of recommendations that may (or may not) match your taste buds.
So, where will you get your burgers, your sandwiches, your favorite comfort foods, and pizza? For lots of people, these are serious questions that require serious answers. And it’s a lot more effort required for those with adventurous tastes, who may be open to cuisines from all over the world.
Back in La Mesa, we knew that we can always pop inside Mystic Grill for some hummus, shawarma, falafel, and balaclava. They do have a rather extensive menu, and those Mystic Grill prices are nicely affordable.
Now that we’re in LA, we’re still looking for great spots to get our favorite Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. Here are some spots that we know we will visit a lot:
Tel Aviv Grill
We found this place at the Windsor Center in Tarzana. It can be a rather chaotic place, like a school cafeteria with people lining up to a counter. At least it isn’t boring, not with the lime green walls and a prominent photo mural of Tel Aviv.
The food isn’t boring either. They serve chicken shawarma on pita bread, baguettes, or just plates, and they do offer a lot of different toppings. They marinate their boneless chicken thighs with 22 to 25 different spices, and they’re all secret. We don’t have to know what they are—we just know that the food is good.
Sunnin Lebanese Café
This restaurant is an institution on Westwood Boulevard, and it’s been serving terrific Lebanese food since 1996. It features a semi-open kitchen with 2 spits, yellow walls lined with art, and exposed wood rafters with skylights.
You really have to go with the chicken shawarma here, with its blend of 75% white meat and 25% dark meat. It’s bathed in a secret marinade, and the only thing we know about it is that it’s garlic-based. Forget about getting a pita sandwich with this, as you need to ask for the plate that also comes with nutty tahini, rice, and a Lebanese salad that features lettuce, tomato, and cucumber.
Unlike many LA shawarma spits, Souk Shawarma uses a wood-burning oven to cook their 6 different meats, on horizontal spits over burning oak. You should really start with the lamb and duck, though the other options (spicy Moroccan style lamb sausage, spicy beef soujouk, beef sirloin, and chicken breast and thigh) aren’t all that bad at all.
But the lamb and duck are just exceptional. Get the boneless lamb shoulder doused with chile and pomegranate molasses, or get the duck leg and thigh seasoned in ras el hanout and marinated in “secret souk sauce.” Or get both—you won’t be sorry.
Upon entering, there’s really nothing all that remarkable about the space here. You’ve got some unassuming black furniture, along with 3 mirrors and 3 flat-screen TVs.
But it’s the food here that makes its reputation. You need to get their signature shawarma plate, which is cheap at just $14. You get the secretly spiced chicken thigh, along with some curry, cumin, and turmeric. It’s stacked with lamb and then everything’s held down on a spit by a whole onion.
Each plate comes with hummus topped with tahini, your choice of either French fries or rice, and your choice of salads, which can contain fried eggplant, pickled cucumbers, and green or purple cabbage. For your hot sauce, you can go with the oily pepper sauce or the green sauce with jalapeños, garlic, and herbs.
This has been around, operating in a strip mall in North Hollywood for years now, and Sam Skaf still runs the joint with his son Alan. Come through the entrance, and the shawarma is probably the first thing you’ll see.
Both the chicken shawarma and the beef shawarma are popular, and your best bet is to just get a combo that combines both. They marinate their top sirloin in red wine, vinegar, and various spices before they set it on the rotating spit. For the chicken meat, (breast, leg, and thigh), they marinate it in Lebanese yogurt, garlic, and spices.
Add the rich hummus and the tangy cabbage salad, and it’s great.
This place opened in a strip mall in Granada Hills back in 2013, and it remains a popular place for some shawarma. The owners are a bit cagey about how they marinate their meat, but there’s no denying the goodness of the chicken and beef on their 2 shawarma spits.
Get a sandwich, and pay the extra dollar so you get it on their house-baked saj bread. You’re getting some flame-cooked meat with pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, and garlic sauce, and it’s just fantastic. And it sure doesn’t hurt that each other also comes with a plate of purple pickled turnip spears, pickled cucumbers, and delicious pepperoncini.