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. As with many of the best eateries, Arax has a narrow focus, choosing to sell only a dozen items per day, which helps with quality control. 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 zatar.
After Tolmajian fires the breads in the oven, he sets them on the retail counter to cool. Spinach and cheese bread is a fluffy disc brushed with olive oil and topped with chopped spinach, onions and mozzarella-like Armenian cheese. Los Angeles isn’t strong on pizza, but this is a winning substitute.
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.
Lahmajun is Arax’s biggest seller, a crispy millimeters-thin disc topped with ground beef and zesty tomato sauce. During Lent, Arax uses ground mushrooms instead of beef. During those forty days, Vrej also offers one of my favorite items, a half-moon shaped pocket filled with tahini paste, chard and garbanzo beans.
At the top of the photo are spinach and cheese breads. At the bottom: Lahmajun. In the middle: molive rolls, a fluffy creation rolled around minced olives and zatar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture that includes thyme, sumac and oregano.
To keep the baked goods fresh, after they cool on the counter, they’re bagged. They stack spicy olive bread and Manaeshe, which is like an unfurled molive roll, similarly seasoned with zatar.
In a display case below the counter lie trays with two varieties of date paste-filled wheat cookies. The ones of the left are called Cheoregs, and the stack on the right is called Mamouls. Both are sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Another unpictured item is Arax Bakery’s pull-apart frisbee-sized disc flavored with tahini paste. 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.