Los Angeles may be pizza-challenged, but at least four flatbread artisans are producing scintillating Middle Eastern equivalents: Arax Bakery and Sasoun Bakery in east Hollywood and Old Sasoon Bakery and Koko’s Bakery in Pasadena.
Arax Bakery – Hollywood, CA [CLOSED]
Arax Bakery opened in Little Armenia in 1986. It’s 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. After Tolmajian fires the breads, he sets them on the retail counter to cool. You have the option to re-heat your choices in the oven, which restores the just-baked effect and elicits wonderful aromas.
Spinach and cheese bread is a fluffy disc brushed with olive oil and topped with chopped spinach, onions and mozzarella-like Armenian cheese. 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, Tolmajian also offers a half-moon shaped pocket filled with tahini paste, chard and garbanzo beans. The molive roll is a fluffy creation rolled around minced olives and zatar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture that includes thyme, sumac and oregano. Spicy olive bread comes slathered with spicy, olive-studded tomato-paste. The lip-sting is well worth it. Arax Bakery also offers pull-apart frisbees flavored with tahini paste. Specify whether you want it well-done or lightly-cooked. Well-done, the tahini and sugar tend to caramelize a bit more.
Sasoun Bakery and Arax Bakery share supremacy on Santa Monica Boulevard. There is definitely some overlap, but both bakeries offer unique specialties, meaning they’re both worth frequenting.
Baker David Yeretsian has built a bakery empire that includes Sasoun locations in Glendale and Reseda. He’s been at it for 25 years, but every morning, he still manages to fill the steel shelves at his Hollywood original with torpedo-shaped cheese boereks, their triangular spinach equivalents and round, thin-crust lahmajunes.
Yeretsian’s foot-long cheese boereks contain semi-sweet cheese and a smattering of red chilies. They’re incredible, simultaneously sweet, salty and spicy, with delicately crispy exteriors. Small cheese boereks feature a tamer flavor profile, flecked with mint.
Each whisper-thin lahmajune is topped with seasoned ground beef that’s tinged with tomato. Every maneishe is blanketed with zatar, a savory Middle Eastern spice mixture that includes oregano, sumac and thyme. When ordering these, make sure to keep a toothpick handy. The final must-have item is the disc of sesame-flavored tahini bread. During the baking process, the sesame paste and sugar is practically caramelized, leading to what amounts to an oversized Middle Eastern cookie.
Yeretsian’s foot-long cheese boereks contain semi-sweet cheese and a smattering of red chilies. They’re incredible, simultaneously sweet, salty and spicy, with delicately crispy exteriors. Small cheese boereks feature a tamer flavor profile, flecked with mint. Triangular boereks cradle a tangy tangle of spinach that’s seasoned with onions and lemon juice.
It’s always dilemma-inducing to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard. Will it be Sasoun Bakeryor Arax Bakery? There are days where I stop at both, which is really the best compromise.