As the fourth largest ethnic enclave outside of Armenia, following Moscow and Berlin, Glendale is a paradise for many delectable foods of the Middle East. Just a 15-20 minute drive north of Downtown Los Angeles, you'll find yourself looking left and right in awe as you drive past the many Lebanese-Armenian, Persian-Armenian, Greek-Armenian and Russian-Armenian establishments. Although it may be rare to encounter a solely Armenian restaurant in Glendale, the one thing you'll never find a shortage of is the kabob, the Middle East's most loved dish. Compiling this list was not an easy task because the differences in regional kabob variations were extremely subtle, though most Middle Easterners have no problem distinguishing cuisines. But at the end of the day, I encountered nothing that was unappetizing, which made this one fun and rewarding food hunt. As overwhelming as it is to drive down Valley Blvd. for Chinese food, I'm hopefully saving you the headache of blindly stepping into a not-so-delicious restaurant in the Middle Eastern version of the San Gabriel Valley. Here are a few of the many places you can enjoy in Glendale.
Everyone has eaten some variation of baklava sometime in their life. And depending on who you ask, people will always say it's from their home country of Greece, Turkey or Iran. And an argument may ensue and people may get hurt. But some historians have even found a baklava recipe listed in a Mongolian cookbook, which suggests it was most likely from the Turks of the Ottoman Empire… or vice versa. Whatever the case, you will not be disappointed by filo pastry dough baked with chopped nuts and honey. At Baklava Factory, you can save yourself a debate and black eye, sampling more than 25 variations of baklava from Iran, Lebanon, Greece, Syria and even Egypt. And they are all delicious.
Known as the Lebanese-Armenian cheese-less "pizza," lahmajun is easily one of the tastiest appetizers one can have – and for usually less than one dollar per piece. But with the amount I've seen people buy at one time, these are more like Armenian doughnuts. Dough is rolled out super thin, basted with minced meat (beef usually), onions and herbs and baked for less than 10 minutes in a giant rotating oven. It can be eaten hot, warm or even cold and dipped into whatever. Even vodka. Like the sangak, be patient and wait for a fresh batch and get there early. I've seen people fold them up like tacos and eat them with yogurt. Watch out for flying elbows and head butts from the elderly, because lahmajun is a hot commodity!
Sasoun and Taron both sell delicious lahmajun and another Lebanese favorite, a triangular-shaped pastry known as boreg (beorek). Some are stuffed with meat and baked, but the most popular ones are cheese boreg and a slightly spicy, spinach boreg. At Sasoun, they use a Spanish white cheese that has a similar consistency to mozzarella. So good when it's fresh out of the oven! This is the perfect place to stock up on goods for camping, fishing or a fun-filled Sunday hangover.
Mini Kabob is one of my favorite couple-run restaurants in Glendale, or should I say, favorite "living rooms." Here, there are no more than 10 seats, but owners Hovik and his wife, Alla, always make you feel at home despite the size of the space. Usually with jokes. I ended up coming back here over and over again after Hovik started playing European Techno for me because I am a "young man." Aside from the excellent plates of shish kabobs (whole meat pieces) and lule kabobs (ground meat), they make excellent hummus and roasted eggplant dip. But for those that aren't hungry enough to put down nearly two pounds of food, there is the "mini kabob." Alla rolls up either beef or chicken lule into a six-inch sausage link. After grilling it up, she lays it over thin pieces of lavash bread and tops it with parsley, onions and the ubiquitous Lebanese white garlic sauce known as toum. I have fallen in love with what is the Lebanese/Armenian version of a "slider" or a "taquito."
The majority of the meat markets in Glendale will sell marinated and uncooked kabob meats, and restaurants will seldom sell their kabobs uncooked. But at the Original Kabob Factory, they've combined the market concept with kabobs cooked-to-order. I serendipitously discovered OKF at a friend's wedding, and for a few years, had no idea where I could find it again. I was told they were chicken kabobs, but being a sweetbread enthusiast, I knew this was something BETTER than chicken. Sure enough, OKF was the caterer of the wedding, and they offer the same sweetbread kabobs for $5 per pound – add some sides and you've got yourself a meal for $10. I recommend calling them 15-20 minutes prior to your arrival so they'll be ready to eat.
For more than 50 years, this Lebanese-Armenian owned chain has served up some of the tastiest rotisserie chicken and shawerma. It is a California icon much like In & Out with it's fast-food restaurant style, but it's more like slow-cooked food served fast. Depending on your mood, you can get your chicken in three forms: whole roasted, in a chicken wrap or sliced off the rotating tarna spit. If you're a fan of tacos al pastor, you'll see the resemblance as the cook carefully slices off the moist, marinated chicken vertically onto a plate. After all, it was Lebanese missionaries that had brought this delicacy over to Mexico decades ago. You may have also eaten the Turkish version of this in pita form, known as a doner kebab, or in a Greek gyro.
Elena's is good for those that can't decide between having Greek or Armenian. While more heavy on the Armenian side, you'll see Greek-style offerings like dolma, which are grape-leaf rolls stuffed with meat or cheese; gyros and the standard Middle Eastern falafel. This place also offers massive plates of delicious kabobs for those that have a tough time ordering. Also, everything comes with a hearty bowl of lentil soup! This place is great for families.
What I love most about Middle Eastern food is that whether it is served on a white paper plate or over a white table cloth, it's going to be good. And there seems to be literally no difference in the amount of food that you're given. Cafe Bravo is the ideal place for take-out because of the portions and price point. For under $10, you can get a skewer of chicken shish and beef lule, two sides and bread. Definitely get the beef lule in your combo - it's awesome.
And, of course, the best is always saved for last. Since 1993, Rafik Bakjanian has been serving some of the best Persian-Armenian food, and as stated before, in large portions. Recently, to compete with other Armenian banquet halls, he renovated and expanded the restaurant, which can now easily hold 250 people. Raffi's may be known for their excellent kabobs, and as hard as it is to refrain from ordering them, this is the place to try different things. For drinks, instead of wine, how about yogurt soda or an ice-cold Armenian beer like Erebuni? Start out with the kashk o'bademjan, which is roasted eggplant topped with caramelized onions and yogurt – eaten with freshly baked sangak bread. Then move on to the delicious stews called ghormeh sabzi and gheymeh bademjan. The former is comprised of herbs and vegetables cooked with beef chunks, kidney beans and dried limes; the latter consists of chunks of beef, split peas, fried onions and eggplant. And, if you have room, why not order a beef and chicken koobideh skewer (lule).
1415 E. Colorado Street
Glendale, CA 91205
1135 W. Glenoaks Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91202
Elena's Greek Armenian
1000 S. Glendale Avenue
Glendale, CA 91205
313 Vine Street
Glendale, CA 91204
Original Kabob Factory
1700 W. Glenoaks Blvd. Unit D
Glendale, CA 91201
211 E. Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
1700 W. Glenoaks Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91201
1117 S. Glendale Avenue
Glendale, CA 91209
1415 E. Colorado Street Suite D
Glendale, CA 91205