Arax Bakery opened in Little Armenia in 1986, named for an Armenian river. Vrej Tolmajian continues to use old family recipes, rising every morning before sunrise to make fresh pastes, fillings and toppings, and of course to bake. His aunt Taline and her husband are also key contributors to the bakery’s success.
Unlike many Armenian bakeries around the city, which focus on sweets, Arax is committed to savory baked goods. The menu touts affordable items like Lahmajun – thin-crusted beef pizzas; Beuregs – pockets filled with meat, cheese, potato or spinach; and breads topped with spicy olive sauce, spinach and cheese or za’atar.
With all the breads, there’s the option to have it re-heated for a couple minutes in the oven, restoring the just-baked effect and bringing out the wonderful aromas.
During Lent, Arax uses ground mushrooms instead of beef in lahmajunes. During those 40 days, Vrej also offers one of my favorite items, a half-moon shaped pocket filled with tahini paste, chard and garbanzo beans.
To keep the baked goods fresh, after they cool on the counter, they’re bagged. They stack spicy olive bread and Manaeshe, which they season with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture that includes thyme, sumac and oregano.
Arax Bakery’s pull-apart frisbee-sized disc flavored with tahini paste is another unpictured item. Taline will ask whether you want it well-done or lightly-cooked, depending on how crispy or soft you like it. Well-done, the tahini and sugar tend to caramelize a bit more.
Arax Bakery may only offer a dozen items per day, but they’re all expertly prepared, so I always face an agonizing decision at the counter. While I may order different things, I can always be sure of two things. One: The baked goods are consistently delicious. Two: the Tolmajians are consistently friendly. The combination has made me a regular.
NOTE: Be warned, if you park in the lot, customers of the Salvadorean bakery WILL block you in. Park on the street instead.