The stretch of Pico Boulevard between La Cienega Boulevard and Beverly Drive features dozens of Kosher restaurants. It can be hard to know where to turn to find the best food. Some people attempt to hit every restaurant on the route, but if you don’t have the constitution of an ox, a good place to start would be at Shawarma Palace, which opened in November.
Pinchas Sherf and wife Ayala run the tiny restaurant. He’s a contractor who worked on monstrous homes in the west Valley and fell on hard times due to the recent economic downtown. Unlike other people in the same position, he had a fallback plan. Before Pinchas Sherf moved to Los Angeles 22 years ago, he owned a shawarma restaurant in Netanya, a city that resides between Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israeli. He dug deep and unearthed his still formidable cooking skills.
The Israeli hotbed of Tarzana was a possible location, but Pico’s Jewish corridor proved more viable since the Sherfs were able to re-appropriate an existing restaurant space for less money and time. The interior features remnants from a previous tenant, including yellow and red seats that look like they dropped out of a 1970s rabbit hole. The walls tout references from the Torah and a list of the 10 Commandments, all in Hebrew. Order at the counter and take a tray to a table.
Most of the dishes revolve around shawarma, a blend of spit-roasted chicken and turkey. Several different shawarma plates are available, as are sandwiches on either French roll, pita or laffah, and even in a taco. They’ve also got “jailed” shawarma, which is cradled in flaky phyllo dough. My choice was the Shawarma Rice Plate ($11.95), which comes with green, dill-stained rice and a choice of sides. My picks consisted of rich, pepper-flecked hummus, addictive sesame-whipped babaghanouj and a tangy salad of green olives, zucchini slices and mushrooms.
The shawarma itself is the best I’ve eaten in Los Angeles, redolent of spice and crusty from getting griddled on a flat-top, but not dry. Pinchas Sherf generous explained the secret of his shawarma’s success. He said that a lot of shawarma cooks toss the meat on the spit with a little salt and pepper and expect the flame to perform magic. He knows better, marinating his meat overnight with salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, cumin, amba and curry. The meat becomes infused. He also uses dark meat, plucked from the thigh, which has a higher fat content than the breast, and thus, more flavor. The shawarma was really wonderful, and I look forward to eating it again, “jailed.”