I had a chance this weekend to try out some new dining spots in the Little Arabia area of Anaheim with OC Register food columnist Jeff Overley. We took in 3 different places all within a stones throw of each other all located on Brookhurst Blvd.
Our first stop was Al Wadee - A hole in the wall in every sense of the word. Its located in a strip mall by a bowling alley, a pool hall, and a bevy of massage parlors. I was early and took the liberty of ordering a few items ahead of time. I was greeted at the counter by a woman who reminded me a lot of Terry Jones in Life of Brian as Brians Mother. Nice lady though....and a helluva good cook. Having read some of the Yelp reviews there were a few things I wanted to try.
Kaftah Pizza-the meat at first glance appeared to be some type of Gyro meat but upon sampling the dish was a bit of a let down that it really tasted like a simple lightly seasoned ground beef patty. For all I know it may have been the perfect example of the region, but was expecting more flavor in the meat. Once again-not horrible by any stretch of the imagination but was expecting either Gyro type flavor or even the TriTip Sharwma at Zankou.
As for the Lahmbajin Pizza-flavor explosion! The toppings ranged from a briny,salty olive like to savory and herby. Easily the best dish we sampled. Though they said it was beef, the appearance hearkened to crumbled bacon and red pepper flakes. The contrast of the meat and what appeared to be olive remoulade, with the cracker thin crust would have paired amazing with some Red Wine.
We also shared a salad that was a wonderful companion with some lightly pickled cucumbers and a fantastic dressing. Jeff suggested he tasted Sumac in it and said he would attempt to get more info on it. I tried a Beef Shwarwa wrap as well that was tasty but different then what I expected. Having my typical idea of what mediteranean/arabic food taste being anything from Zankou that is pretty much the standard by which I judge for better or worse.
Beef Shwarma Wrap
All in all....a nice place to stop in for a quick bite and I would love to go back and try the Falafal.
Our next place we stopped at was Zait and Zaatar- Great atmosphere with a smell the encompassed everything you would imagine an arabic place would smell like. The Chicken Wrap in particular was wonderful, with the wrap being much closer to crepe then pita and the chicken sliced thin and moist with a perfect light dusting of seasoning that blended perfect with the pickles and sauce. The pies were light and flaky and a steal for the price. Tailer made for multiple locations, if Baja Fresh or Panda Express can succeed....there is absolutely no reason Zait and Zaatar could not succeed in OC. The Wrap was 4.99, the Pizzas were inexpensive as well, and the
pies a bargain at 99 cents a pop. After the fact I pondered if there were indeed a difference between the arabic style pies here verses the south american empanada. I took a few pictures and got the stink eye from the owner.....but he turned out to be an amiable bloke at the end of the day. For atmosphere, food, price and all of the other qualities that make up good restaurants-Zait and Zaatar had the magical recipe. Once again-expanding into the OC would be a windfall as the menu and atmosphere would be welcomed by diners of all races and religions. I can only imagine how people drive by and will never experience this place....I know if not for Jeffs suggestion its a place I would have never known about.
Spicy Spinach Pie
More from their Selection of Pies
Finally our last stop was at the Tripoli Bakery. Housed in what had to have been a donut shop at one time, if you didnt have diabetes before you stepped foot inside you probably did when you left. Without knowing the specific names of the dishes we tried- The Milk/Custard topped with what reminded me of Frosted MiniWheats and drizzled with simple syrup was very good. The Combo of Milk, Topping, Pistachio, and Sugar didn't taste as exotic as one would think and reminded me of an extension of Custard Pie. The Baklava was not nearly as sweet as its Greek Counterpart that I was accustomed to and thus was able to detect far more variety of nutty, cinnamon flavor. It was a much more basic style as well with only one layer of filling between the phylo dough as opposed to some of the multi layered offerings Ive tasted in the past. The Cheese Caulk dish was the one that worked least, texturally its unlike any sweet desert dish Ive ever had. Had you taken the cheese and topped it with tomato sauce and fried garlic; it would have made for a wonderful italian appetizer as opposed to using the cheese for a Lebanese desert if that makes sense.
Fill Your Gut...and Seal Your Windows
All in all it was a very fun day, not too much different the legendary OC Day of Pizza we did a couple of years ago. What was nice was, as much as I love Zankou its not very close to the freeway so visiting is time consuming. All of these places were right off the 5 and Brookhurst so stopping off the freeway and taking some goodies to go is now a very realistic option when I'm in the area.