When noting cultural diversity, what better place to start than Los Angeles? The L.A. metro area hosts roughly 10 million residents, and you see people from all over the world come to call L.A. home, attracted by opportunity and the chance to build a new life. Tehrangeles, a neighborhood south of Westwood Village that’s official called Persian Square, is an epicenter for the local Iranian community. Approximately 2 million Iranians reside in the United States, a significant amount who fled during the 1979 revolution, and you’ll find the highest concentration in Southern California. They have a rich history – the Persian Empire once encompassed 40% of the world’s population – and one thing that stands out from Iranian culture is their cuisine. Enjoy my culinary tour of Tehrangeles, an area that isn’t limited to Persian restaurants.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
1. Attari Sandwich Shop
Attari Sandwich Shop is situated in beautiful Attari Plaza, next to Soleil and P’tit Soleil, and is the best place to try one of the most common Iranian street foods, the the sandwich. Sandwiches are traditionally served to Iranians on the go or laborers and typically contain many calories. Between giant baguettes you can find plenty of classic Iranian ingredients at this café, which the Sadaghiani family has run since the ’80s. Kuku sabzi is an Attari specialty, and personal favorite of mine, a traditional Persian and Azerbaijani omelet that they make with various herbs or “sabzi” that provide astounding color and texture. Although the dish is not traditionally served in sandwich form, nevertheless, you will still be satisfied. However, I would consider the true specialty of this little sandwich shop to be the brain sandwich. Now, I bet if you are not an adventurous eater, or Iranian by birth, you will most likely not want to touch that dial automatically, but if you are up to the test, definitely try this creamy delicacy.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Beef Brain Sandwich, Kuku Sabzi Sandwich
2. Café Glace
When you are thinking of pizza toppings, ketchup is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Just like different cultures have their toppings for the global dish, like chocolate for Brazilians and olives for Israelis, Iranians prefer to top off their pizzas with a big squirt of ketchup. Oddly enough, such a distinguished style of the dish exists in Iran due to the country’s lack of Westernization. From all toppings, ranging from hot dogs to beef mortadella, my personal favorite is the “mix” pizza, which combines all these flavors on a single crust, with the addition of typical ingredients like mushrooms and grilled vegetables.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Beef Tongue Sandwich, Persian Mix Pizza
3. Farsi Cafe
Where do hungry Iranian–Angelenos go when they want to take a dip into the ocean of nostalgia? They go to the place that reminds them most of home. If you want to have a good taste of Iranian home cooking, there is no better place than Farsi Café. If you are vegetarian, it’s your lucky day. Just try kash e bademjan, a roasted eggplant and yogurt dip that is served as an appetizer, preferably enjoyed with a side of doogh, a mint yogurt drink and various herbs or “sabzi.” Don’t fill up on the appetizers, because you will need to make room for the Cornish hen kabob. Iranian chicken kebabs are renowned for their juicy flavor and saffron marinade, resulting in its beautiful color. Kebabs are always served with a heaping pile of basmati rice and a roasted tomato. Mind you, Iranian food is typically very filling, so indulge in hot black tea and fine Persian sweets to cleanse your palate and aid digestion. At Farsi Café, you’ll find Iranian Ice cream, known as “Bastani”, in the most common flavor, saffron pistachio, which is traditionally served in wafer sandwiches. Alternatively, you may also like to indulge in Persian baklava. What is unique about Persian baklava is that it’s made with tons of butter and saffron, making it not only extra sweet, but also extra Iranian.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Chicken Thigh Kebab, Tahdig
Flame is a personal favorite of mine. What sets Flame apart from other eateries in the area is its upscale ambience, with the clientele sporting particularly stylish clothing. While the place is mostly renowned for their kebabs, particularly ground beef “koobideh,” one dish that really stands out at Flame is tahchin. This savory rice cake is usually filled with lamb or chicken, and topped with tart barberries. While you are at it, slurp down a nice doogh, a yogurt and mint based beverage that aids digestion for such hearty food.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Chicken Koobideh, Lamb Tahchin, Tahdig with various stews
The Kitchen at Westwood features the food of Iran’s neighbor. This relatively new joint specializes in Turkish specialties, as well as dishes from other neighboring countries. For example, if you look carefully at the menu, you will find karniyarik, a stuffed eggplant dish that is eaten in Turkey, as well as in Azerbaijan. Manti is another specialty of the kitchen, and a rare find. This regional dish is represented in the various cuisines of the Middle East, Central Asia, and spans as far as Siberia. In fact, the Turkish version that you’ll find at The Kitchen consists of tiny dumplings doused in yogurt and topped off with Aleppo pepper, resulting in a taste very similar to the Russian “pelmeni.” Their biggest specialty, which I have yet to find anywhere else in Los Angeles, is known as “pide.” These large flatbreads are always topped with meat or vegetables, and people dare to refer to it as a “Turkish pizza.” Although this dish is exclusively Turkish, it very much so resembles Georgian khachapuri, another boat-shaped pastry that always consists of cheese, egg, and various meat toppings. All of these specialties show how much powerful influence Turkey has on its surrounding neighbors in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Europe.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Pide, Karniyarik, Kayseri Manti
Located in heart of Tehrangeles, MZuma is another Turkish restaurant that specializes in both local and home-made dishes. Modern Turkish cuisine takes influences from all the regions that the Ottoman Empire conquered, stretching from the Middle East to North Africa, and parts of Eastern/Central Europe. For instance, you must start with dolma, meaning “stuffed” in the Turkic languages. This popular grape leaf dish is stuffed with rice, which traditionally can be served with or without meat, and a dollop of tzatziki. Kofta is another regional dish you will find at MZuma Kitchen. This traditional meatball dish is popular in the Middle East and eaten as finger food alongside rice pilaf. While you are it, you may also find the traditional doner kebab, a vertical skewered meat dish that is similar to shawarma that can be eaten either as a wrap or on a plate. Finally, be sure to cleanse your palate with a nice cup of Turkish coffee, which is served alongside a piece of Turkish delight, or “rahat lokum.”
MUST ORDER DISHES: Beyti Kebab, Dolma, Knafeh/Kadaif