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.
7. P’tit Soleil
At P’tit Soleil, we must leave the Middle East behind and make the trek to North America. Soleil’s main specialty is French food, and spinoff P’tit Soleil ties into their status as the only French–Canadian restaurant in Los Angeles County. Sure, you can find poutine all over the city, but this is probably the only place that really gets it, serving 12 different varieties of loaded French fries that traditionally come topped with cheese curds and gravy. P’tit Soleil is truly the best of both words, as you can enjoy your French rscargot, followed immediately by a Canadian mince pie known in Quebecois French as tourtiere, all while sipping on a glass of Italian wine. Before you leave, why not try pouding choumer, a Quebecois bread pudding that is topped off with vanilla ice cream and, you guessed it, maple syrup, which is an excellent pairing with French Sauvignon. If your are interested in the whacky world that is French-Canadian cuisine, then make sure to visit P’tit Soleil.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Pouding Choumer, Poutine Escargot
Did you know that Iranians have a massive sweet tooth? If you too crave sweets and are looking for a place to have dessert after a lovely dinner, why not stop by Pink Orchid? Don’t be alarmed at the amount of Western pastries you see at the bakery, such as cannoli and red velvet cake. A friend informed me that, despite lacking significant Westernization, these pastries are also enjoyed in cafes and patisseries all over Iran. As for the traditional Iranian dishes, you should set your sights on trying “piroshki”, which were borrowed from the Russians. The Iranian version of this pastry features soft pastry filled with chocolate, and should be considered Pink Orchid’s specialty. Also, while you’re at it, help yourself to traditional Iranian cardamom cookies and saffron rice pudding, a dish that is truly a gem as it is difficult to get your hands on it in L.A.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Gata, Persian Baklava (both pair great with black tea)
Though technically not a restaurant, Saffron & Rose has been serving traditional Persian ice cream to happy customers for many years now. Did you know that the Persians are some of the oldest consumers of the frozen treat in the world? It is said that soldiers in the Persian Empire would pour sweet syrups over snow and mix it with spices such as saffron or even top it with rose petals. Persians also refer to there ice cream generally as “bastani”. This brings us to one of the two specialties of Saffron & Rose: faloodeh. This unusual treat consists of pure ice mixed with vermicelli and sweetened with rose water. You also have the option to top off the dish with rose syrup, probably not dissimilar to how ancient Persians enjoyed this sweet treat. Saffron and pistachio ice cream is another delicacy. This is the most common form of Persian ice cream that you will find in Los Angeles markets, and can be enjoyed in a cup or sandwiched between traditional Persian wafers.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Faloodeh, Saffron and Pistachio Ice Cream
When you think of rice, fruit is probably not the first ingredient you would think of to accompany it. It may even sound repulsive to people who are unfamiliar with this combination. However, it is not unusual. After all, the Persians have been doing it for centuries. Shirin means “sweet” in Farsi, and this is how many Iranians enjoy their rice, or as they call it in Farsi, “polo.” The various “polos” in Persian cooking are predecessors to the dish we know today as “pilaf.” If you have a sweet tooth, you are in for a treat, because you can have dinner and dessert on one plate. Albaloo polo, sweet cherry rice, consists of bright red “cherry” rice, with a base of buttery pilaf soaked in sweet cherry juice, and topped off with tart barberries. Zereshk polo, known in English as jeweled rice, consists of eye-catching barberries, saffron, and pistachios on a base of buttery yellow rice. Hopefully, these sweet dishes will not prevent you from finishing off your meal with some hot Persian black tea and baklava.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Albaloo Polo, Shirin Polo, Zereshk Polo
11. Shamshiri Grill
Generally speaking, the first dish that comes to mind when people think of Middle Eastern food is “kebab.” Kebabs are definitely the star of Persian cuisine. At Shamshiri Grill in Westwood, meats are grilled right on the mangal, the term used for any meat grilling mechanism in Western Asian countries. At Shamshiri, you will find koobideh dominating all of the kebabs, as it is the most popular Iranian kebab, usually made from ground beef, chicken or lamb. My favorite koobideh at Shamshiri is prepared with chicken. Feel free to enjoy this dish in a plate, or made to order wrapped in lavash, a regional flatbread with disputed origins. Also, dig in to the onions and tomatoes that always accompany kebabs to cleanse the strong taste of meat from your mouth.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Beef/Chicken Koobideh, Fesenjan, Salmon Kebab
12. Sunnin Bakery
If you are in a hurry, and have no desire for a four-course meal, why not have something on the go? After all, it’s only pragmatic, right? If you find yourself on Westwood Boulevard while you’re in this situation, stop at Sunnin Bakery, a spinoff of Sunnin Lebanese Cafe across the street. While Lebanese food is globally the most popular Middle Eastern cuisine due to Lebanese immigration, Sunnin is unique because it specializes in stuff you will only find on Lebanese street corners, and spares you from buying an expensive ticket to Beirut if you want to try it. Manakish is most renowned of these dishes that you will find, which people mistakenly call Lebanese pizza. Manakish is a thin, crispy flatbread, merely topped with Akkawi cheese and za’tar, the savory blend of herbs and seeds that’s popular throughout the Levant. The second most recognizable dish you will find is fatayer, which is the Arabic variant of the dish known as “burek,” a pastry that’s popular in Turkey and is traditionally filled with cheese or minced meat. These doughy pastries are only a sample of the Lebanese street food that exists in this world, most of which are made for people traditionally working in agriculture, a strong aspect of Lebanese society. If you are a worker on the go, Sunnin Bakery will please you so.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Fatayer, Lahmajoon, Manakish
Max Michelson is an Anthropology student at Santa Monica College, who has always had a passion for food. Born to parents from Israel in Los Angeles, he has always had a passion for the region’s cuisines, and was exposed to a variety of different foods. With food always being something on his mind in his spare time, and a common topic of research, he aspires to open a YouTube channel and blog entirely dedicated to this subject.”