Al Sanabel has one of Orange County's widest Middle Eastern flatbread selections.
In the shadow of Disneyland, an Arabic community known as Little Gaza has sprouted up since the 1990’s, populated with immigrants from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. A row of restaurants and bakeries has arisen along Brookhurst Street to feed their needs, including this 10-year-old bakery named for the Arabic term for a head of wheat.
The interior is lined with blue booths, stained glass lanterns and chairs with cutouts of steaming cups of coffee, which clearly weren’t intended for a Lebanese bakery. There’s also a claw game where you can win a stuffed zebra, black cat in a top hat and bowtie, or a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap. It’s a toss-up which “prize” is the most depressing. Thankfully, the 20-plus varieties of Lebanese flatbreads known as sphihas weren’t depressing in the least.
On the recommendation of the counterman, we ordered four different fresh-baked sphihas.
Sphiha Baalbakia ($2.75), topped with a blend of lean ground beef, spices and pomegranate syrup, reminded me of naan, with a nice tang from pomegranate, luscious meat, and added texture from scattered pine nuts.
Zaatar ($1.25), topped with a “special imported blend of oregano, thyme, oil and other herbs,” came folded over and cut in half. The pliant flatbread was really good, even tangier than the Armenian variety I’ve had.
Cheese ($1.85) was a simple but effective blend of “premium cheeses” and parsley.
Cheese & Chicken ($2.75) was less successful, with overcooked shredded chicken breast. Even a layer of white cheese manakeesh and a zataar shower couldn’t redeem this sphiha.
Instead of completely submitting to the counterman, we included a personal selection: Koko Kiri ($2.99) – “a meat lover’s favorite” that was similar to the Sphiha Baalbakia, minus the pomegranate syrup, but with rows of pickle, yogurt and the crumbled spiced beef sausage called soujuk.
A refrigerator hosted cold specialties like stuffed grape leaves and hummus. I opted for a side of mujaddara: rice mixed with lentils and topped with sweet, caramelized fried onions. It was good, but we probably should have just ordered another sphiha.
Living near Little Armenia in Los Angeles, I have plenty of experience with Middle Eastern flatbreads, but neither of my favorite local bakeries has anywhere near the variety of Al Sanabel. As a result, even with skyrocketing gas prices, I could see driving the extra miles to further explore Al Sanabel’s menu.