Koko’s: Middle Eastern Food Made with Jeweler’s Eye for Detail

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Restaurant Los Angeles

Since this is Los Angeles, it makes sense that one of the city’s best Middle Eastern restaurants, Koko’s, would share a Van Nuys strip mall with a water shop and a restaurant touting “Edible Sandwiches.”

Koko’s chef-owner Elie Janesian and wife Talin have owned this Middle Eastern restaurant for nine months, taking over for founder Koko. It’s a family affair at Koko’s, with friendly daughter Karen frequently working the front of the house. Elie’s Armenian grandfather moved to Aleppo, Syria, after the genocide. In Aleppo, Elie ran a falafel stand, but after the family moved to the San Fernando Valley eight years ago, he worked as a jeweler. Fortunately, he couldn’t shake cooking, so he trained with Koko for three months before taking over the casual corner restaurant with wood floors and green tablecloths.

As for Koko’s food, they make everything in-house except for the pita. Elie Janesian is so committed to freshness that he buys whole lambs and butchers the animals in back.

Pickles Los Angeles
Janesian probably makes the premier pickled vegetables (that aren’t kimchi) in the entire city. He pickles turnips, cabbage leaves and cucumbers, to name just three vegetables. They all feature a nice crunch and aggressive vinegar acidity.

Middle Eastern Food Los Angeles
Cheese boerek come four to an order and cost $5.50. The fried pockets feature crispy golden wrappers and a filling of minced parsley and sweet-salty cheese. When I asked what kind of cheese, Janesian said, “The name is secret cheese.” That shut the door on further speculation.

Middle Eastern Food Los Angeles
Arayes ($12) is a fairly uncommon Lebanese specialty consisting of crispy grilled pita filled with well-spiced ground lamb and pine nuts. A squeeze of lemon helped cut through the meat’s richness. Unlike at a lot of restaurants, the signature (and satisfying) funk made it clear we were eating lamb.

Middle Eastern Food Los Angeles
Anta Kali Kebab may have been even better, with house-made ground beef kebabs and a two-layer stack of grilled pita topped with tangy onion and tomato. On the side, we received a fairly common Lebanese side: a whole roasted tomato with sumac dusted onions.

Baklava Los Angeles
Talin Janesian is the restaurant’s pastry expert, producing the boerek and baking baklava. Her flaky phyllo squares weren’t too syrupy and contained crumbled walnuts inside and crumbled pistachios outside.

Pickled Fruit Los Angeles
After we paid the bill, Mr. Janesian came out to talk. We expressed an interest in his pickled vegetables and he directed us to big plastic bins of pickled cucumbers, which still needed a few more days of bathing in vinegar. He also shared a couple special pickled apricots, which were profoundly tart and totally unique.

This may have been my first meal at Koko’s, but considering how warm the Janesians were, and how good their food tasted, several return trips are in order to further mine the menu.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

Warm people and awesome food make this place one of my favorite restaurants in L.A. I feel like at home every time I go. Keep up the good work people. You do not need to change anything about this place because it’s just PERFECT. I love the flavors in every dish!!!

Koko’s was one of my all-time favorite restaurants in the valley. Superb food…it is a great thing that it is under new management…the old mgt. – beyond rude – but the food was so good we put up with it.

I would highly recommend the food – especially the chicken and beef kabobs!

Koko’s Middle Eastern Restaurant would like to appreciate these sincere and quite interesting comments regarding our food, fmaily, and restaurant. Thank You for your time Joshua. 🙂

-Karen E Janesian

yum! you’re making strides in revealing the gastronomic appeal of the Valley. I never thought it had a chance.

sounds like a place I would like to go

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