I recently learned a long-lost cousin was living only an hour away. One problem: last I knew him, he was vegetarian. Luckily, he came to his senses and started eating animals again. Meaning we could have dinner. I suggested Elena’s, a phenomenal family run Greek-Armenian place that’s been in business since 1976. My cousin said he didn’t like Greek. But Elena’s isn’t ordinary Greek. So whether he wanted it or not, we were off.
Elena Petikyan’s restaurant resides in a residential section of Glendale, second only to Dearborn, Michigan, in population of Armenian-Americans. The exterior is lined with Christmas lights, even in July, and draped with a clear plastic tarp. Despite the spare decor, and just a dozen tables inside, they manage to prepare Los Angeles’ premier Middle Eastern food.
Regardless of your entree, you’re given a choice of soup or salad. Go for the soup, which is always lentil, and always delicious: lemony and refreshing, full of hearty lentils. Crumble on some fresh feta to maximize the experience.
Top appetizers include stuffed grape leaves, hot and delicious, 12 to an order, stuffed with either ground lamb or rice. Amazingly, the veggie version wins. The dill-laced cigars are buttery and sweet as candy, drizzled with tangy yogurt sauce.
Falafel with hummus is another gem. Unlike the typical chickpea rocks you’ll find, these falafel are fist-sized, golden crusted, moist and pillowy within, served with cool tomato slices and dusted with paprika and a green Armenian spice blend called chaimen.
I probably sound like a vegetarian convert, so I’ll get to the good stuff: luscious plates of cow, pig, bird and sheep. All meats are infused with a delicious, and mysterious, red marinade, their smoky flavor emanating from wood placed under the coals. Quail come two to an order and taste much better, and cost much less, than any I’ve eaten at fancy restaurants. The pork chops were tender, lean, and infused with the same gift of spice as the quail. Filet mignon (pictured) and chicken kebabs, lamb chops (pictured), and the casing-free ground beef sausages – lule kebab (pictured) – also benefit from Elena’s signature spice infusion. Lamb kebabs were so tender and flavorful that my friend Krystal dubbed them “wonder meat.”
For dessert, there’s good, cinnamon-dusted rice pudding and a soft rhombus of baklava. But all I can normally handle is Armenian coffee, which is phenomenal, naturally rich and sweet. But this coffee is hardly “good to the last drop.” By the time you hit the pit of the espresso cup, you’ll find a delta’s worth of sooty coffee grounds.
Granted, dragging my cousin along to a restaurant he had no interest in probably wasn’t the best way to keep him from regaining long-lost status. But since that restaurant was Elena’s, I knew I had nothing to worry about. And judging by his reaction, looks like we won’t have to wait another four years to eat together again.