Glendale may be better known for Middle Eastern food, but Northeast Pasadena features a treasure trove of Armenian, Lebanese and Syrian options, including sit-down restaurants, delis and two stellar bakeries: Koko’s and Old Sasoon.
In 1991, Krikor “Koko” Saghbazarian and wife Houri opened their bakery in a charming timeworn building. Koko’s grandfather was a baker in Armenia who was forced to escape to Lebanon during the genocide. Koko and his wife moved to Boston, where son Michael was born, then proceeded to Pasadena to continue his craft. A dry-erase board lists 14 styles of savory Armenian breads and pies, including two varieties of Armenian baked goods that I’ve never encountered before.
Open Cheese is a pull-part flatbread topped with mild white Armenian cheese, ground mint and red pepper flakes. There may not be a single Los Angeles pizzeria that produces such a well-balanced crust, not too puffy, not at all dry, with just the right amount of bite. Soujouk “pie” combines white cheese, red pepper flakes and chewy cuts of spicy Armenian sausage known as soujouk – beef sausage flavored with garlic powder and paprika – purchased from nearby Garo’s Basturma. Terrific. Koko normally pulls steaming lahmajunes from the oven at 12:30 PM, so best time your visit with that momentous event.
Haroutioun Geragosian began working at a bakery in Aleppo, Syria, at age 13 in order to supply his family with bread. Geragosian absorbed baking wisdom and opened his own business in 1948, calling it Old Sasoon Bakery, named for a village in Armenia that his grandparents left after World War II. He relocated his family and bakery to Pasadena in 1986, selling just lahmajunes, cheese and spinach beorags. Son Joseph Geragosian is now in charge of daily operations, working alongside sister Caroline and mother Archalous. Joseph has expanded Old Sasoon’s offerings to include 17 breads, a selection that’s unparalleled in L.A. County.
The Manaiesh Sandwich is truly special, and shockingly affordable, a zahtar-dusted flatbread lined with rows of mint leaves, tomatoes, green olives and crispy raw onions. The manaiesh is then rolled up, which makes for easy eating. Zahtar, Chile and Onion is a manaiesh with the added bonus of hot pepper paste and onions. The color is incredible, a rich burgundy, and the bread has a nice spice kick. For Soujouk and Cheese bread, Joseph makes the garlicky, spice-flecked ground beef sausage in-house using white Cacique cheese, a Mexican cow’s milk cheese that doesn’t turn to plastic in the fridge. Another favorite is a crisp-edged pastry pocket filled with finely chopped Swiss chard (Panjar), tahini paste, onions and “seasonings.” Joseph also fills bread with basturma, sheets of Armenian cured beef, which he buys as needed down the street at Garo’s Basturma.
Two years ago, Joseph added sweets, including nut-crammed baklava fingers, pistachio nests and walnut-filled cookies called mamoul. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, it’s possible to order a 45-pound lamb, stuffed with rice pilaf, ground beef, nuts and spices.
Top Photo: Old Sasoun Manaeish Sandwich
NOTE: The names of some of the same breads are spelled differently. That’s intentional, since the bakeries spell them differently.