Cookbook author Anissa Helou joined Los Angeles times restaurant movie critic Bill Addison on a 2½-day pursuit to eat in ~ as numerous of the Persian restaurants in the Los Angeles city area as they could.

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Anissa Helou speared a charred, oval slice of grilled donbalan — Farsi because that lamb testicle — v her fork and considered her bite. The appearance and texture the the kebab resembled a supple sea scallop, though the flavor had a limit gaminess, tempered through its smoky edges. “It’s cooking correctly,” Helou said. Climate she added: “It’s exceptional to be eat this food in L.A.”

We were having the third of ours day’s 7 meals — eight if you counting a last stop for ice cream — in ~ Attari Grill, an Iranian restaurant in Westwood. The restaurant is the lesser-known adjunct to popular sibling Attari Sandwich Shop; they face each other throughout a courtyard where customers linger at tables shaded by vibrant umbrellas, and they serve likewise meaty menus and grab-and-go foods. However only the Grill prepares donbalan.


Restaurant movie critic Bill Addison pinpoints seven current reviews, from a carnitas food truck to a tiny Japanese wonder, that highlight the city’s amazing dining culture.

Helou is a Lebanese Syrian cookbook author, based in Sicily, who has actually spent the last two years tirelessly traveling to research study the culinary middle East and its diaspora. In May, she winner a James Beard compensation for her 530-page magnum opus, “Feast: Food that the Islamic World.” The food at Attari amazed her due to the fact that the offal, when quite common in the middle East, is too seldom served in America in restaurants of any kind of kind. It to be a standout surprise during our current self-assigned mission: to eat meals in ~ as plenty of of the Iranian restaurants in the Los Angeles metropolitan area together we could manage in our 2½ days together.


All told, us made it come 18 places.


(Parisa Parnian / because that The Times)
We both want to much better grasp the city’s Iranian American society by scaling hill after saffron-peaked mountain of rice, wading through every feasible herbaceous stew and devouring as many different type of kebabs as we can find. Us collated the most compelling recommendations from colleagues and friends and scarfed under hearty breakfasts, lunches and also dinners. Clean champions emerged.

There were dozens, if no hundreds, of options to small down. Southern California has the largest Iranian populace outside Iran. Ar estimates tally 300,000 come 500,000 Iranian American occupants in the region; the Census Bureau states Los Angeles is residence to 87,000 people of Iranian heritage.

Tehrangeles, together the Westwood-based community has lengthy been nicknamed, started to take form in the 1960s; the mushroomed with the newcomers who fled Iran in solution to the country’s scar 1979 revolution. The two Attari restaurants reside on a block that received an main designation together “Persian Square” through Los Angeles in 2010, an acknowledgment of how deep the local Iranian American roots have actually reached.


We never ever saw donbalan offered again. Many of the menus in ~ the various other restaurants we checked out — in Westwood, Glendale, Irvine and also Anaheim — mutual a details sameness. Kebabs, served with drifts of rice, predominate: lamb, beef, chicken, usually a couple of seafood choices. Numerous stews appear again and also again: moss-toned ghormeh sabzi (kidney beans and often lamb or beef simmered with dried lime and fifty percent a dozen herbs), sweet-and-sour fesenjan (chicken in a sauce thick with walnuts and also racing through pomegranate molasses) and also gheymeh (a tumble that spiced tomato, beef and split yellow peas, v fried egg plant or a crown that fried potatoes making frequent appearances). Dips the eggplant and yogurt star together appetizers, as does ash-e reshteh, a fragrant vegetable noodle soup. Cucumbers and also tomatoes dominate the salads.

Helou and Iranian American food writers Andy Baraghani and also Naz Deravian all boiled under my query about the menus’ universality come the same essence: The khoresh, or stew, is the fundament of Iranian home cooking, with infinite individual, local and seasonal variations; families and groups have tendency to go out for kebabs, and the dishes accessible at the restaurants space meant to have widespread appeal. (I have more on the object this mainly in our totally free critics’ newsletter, Tasting Notes; you have the right to subscribe at


Shuffle the pages that Najmieh Batmanglij’s massive cookbook “Cooking in Iran: regional Recipes and also Kitchen Secrets” — a 700-plus-page compendium of the cuisine of Iran that she has mastered over the critical three decades — and also you’ll find particular ingredients dropped favor trail markers.

Yet the an ext Helou and I ate, the much more distinct every restaurant became. We can discern the an accurate seasoning of the meat (and lack thereof), or the specific thickness the the yogurt dips, or the hoped-for weightlessness of the rice; superior specialties leaped out to us.

When dining out, I often tend to take it experiences at confront value and also gather context later; Helou is the opposite. Regal and also enigmatic, but likewise kind and slyly mischievous, she strikes a singular presence. She has an especially head of undulating silver- hair, choose ripples in a pond on a sweltering day when the air over also shimmers in waves. She has plenty of on-the-spot inquiries because that servers and owners — around how much oil the kitchen supplies for the crispy rice, about where in Iran the owner is from and also how lengthy she’s been in America, around the ideal consistency the ab-goosht (more on the later). Civilization readily answer the questions; she stately, inquiring disposition commonly prompts a few questions of your own.


Anissa Helou is a Lebanese Syrian cookbook author based in Sicily. In May, she won a James Beard award for her cookbook “Feast: Food the the Islamic World.”
We to be in total agreement around the stalwarts that many impressed us. One omission may surprise readers: Raffi’s location in Glendale, a cherished institution for much more than 25 years, which no of us lot enjoyed. It was our very first stop, and also it to be the very first time Helou encountered the tradition in neighborhood Persian restaurants the she doesn’t recall from her trips to Iran: ladling one or two thick stews straight on height of continent-shaped servings of tahdig, the prized crackling, caramelized layer of rice that develops at the bottom of the pot. “Why would certainly they do this?” she cried. “Enjoying the crispness is the whole point. It absolutely damages the texture.” we encountered stews spooned over tahdig almost everywhere we ate. She disdain never ever relented.

Allow me to present you to every Iranian home cook’s secret weapon: the Persian rice cooker, or what i affectionately refer to as mine “cheat pot.”

If the cooking at Raffi’s no wow us in its entirety that day, the joyful sense of fellowship among the client did. “The large groups — the aunts and uncles, the countless generations — and it’s absolutely packed on a Tuesday lunch,” Helou said. “We can basically have remained in Iran.” Witnessing just how these havens nurture neighborhood was as essential to united state as the eating: the boisterous families, the dignified older solo diners, the voice melodies that Farsi (and sometimes Armenian; Glendale in certain has a long-established Iranian Armenian population) frequently chiming v the dining rooms.

With the perfume of meat grilled end charcoal clinging to our clothes, us ranked our 5 favorite neighborhood Iranian restaurants.

Taste of Tehran

The Tehran kebab key special contains chicken, beef and also filet mignon kebabs. Rice, a residence salad and mast-o-khiar (yogurt combined with chopped cucumber and mint) round out the spread.
“The quality of the food preparation really jumped notably at the smaller restaurants,” Helou pronounced together we perfect our meal at this small six-table boîte hidden amongst a thicket of other Iranian American cafes and also markets in Westwood. It to be our grand finale after ~ 2½ work of eating, but even v our overstuffed exhaustion we known its superiority.

Chef and also owner Saghar Fanisalek prospered up in Shiraz, an old city in south-central Iran. She moved to the U.S. In 2003 and very first worked at Shaherzad, one of Westwood’s longest-standing kebab houses; she opened Taste that Tehran in 2013. Her menu dabbles in modernist lavash wraps and also renegade concoctions such as spiced lentil-quinoa salad through raisins and dates, but the heart of her food preparation lands squarely in Iranian restaurant traditions: kebabs, rice and dips, every done with uncommon finesse.

Chef Saghar Fanisalek grew up in Shiraz, Iran. She worked at Shaherzad in Westwood before opening Taste the Tehran in 2013.
Koobideh kebabs — an Iranian classic of soil meat shaped through distinctive finger-width indentations — to be the comparative traditional Helou and also I ordered from restaurant come restaurant. The exemplar in ~ Taste that Tehran confirmed a master’s touch, the grated onion in the tender-singed beef added in just the appropriate proportions, every bite vibrantly seasoned. Very same for the still-rosy filet shish kebab and the lemony grilled chicken. Mast-o-khiar (yogurt blended with chopped cucumber and also mint) and mast-o-mousir (yogurt with shallot; remarkable with the fluffy rice and kebabs) uncovered a soft medium, no gluey no one watery like so numerous versions us encountered.

For a snug space, it delivered primo people-watching: a granny doting top top her 2 grandchildren while the mom spread plates that chicken; a straight-backed man carefully composing well balanced forkfuls that grilled trout, rice and also tomato. The restaurant’s name might hearken earlier to Fanisalek’s aboriginal land, however this is a quiet wonderful method to taste — and also experience — the best of Tehrangeles.

1915 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 470-0022,

Attari Sandwich Shop/Attari Grill

Farhad Pourbastani, manager at Attari Grill, holds up a plate featuring donbalan, grilled lamb testicle. “It’s amazing to be eat this dish in L.A.,” said Anissa Helou.
The sandwich shop, with its signatures such as thinly sliced beef tongue through pickles top top a soft French roll, is a Westwood mainstay. But the next-door grill has actually a more comfortable setup and a grasp of differentiating specialties, including sabzi polo mahi (fried trout through herbed rice), a vision the greenness that’s traditionally served at Nowruz, the Persian brand-new Year celebrated in the spring. Helou mentioned that even the walnut halves on a side plate that herbs had actually been soaked to effectively revive them.

Thinly sliced beef tongue through pickles top top a French roll at the famous Attari Sandwich Shop in Westwood. That sits across from Attari Grill.
I was on the lookout for a superlative version of kuku sabzi, one herb-dense egg dish similar to a frittata that’s additionally a requisite in ~ Nowruz. Ns didn’t discover my ideal, honestly, however the one at Attari come the closest. The kebabs are solid, the donbalan being the prior runner. Our soft-spoken, septuagenarian server blushed as soon as we asked that to translate that word; Helou automatically understood it to be lamb’s testicles once she saw his embarrassment. The charmed us both madly.

1388 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 441-5488,

Hen residence Grill

“Do you desire to mash the ab-goosht, or would you like us to execute it?” request the guy at the respond to taking our order.

“Oh, we’ll do it,” Helou said instantly.

We’d asked for dizi, a dish called for the traditional vessel in which to offer the ab-goosht, a tomato-laced lamb and chickpea stew. Helou knew the ritual: begin by draining the stew’s broth into a bowl, and also then mixing in torn piece of accompanying flatbread. Then, with a masher made to fit the dimension of the dizi, smoosh the lamb and also beans right into a texture somewhere between coarse and smooth; there’s nobody correct consistency. The ceremony, and also the earthy goodness of the different components, felt wholly nourishing.

Many that the stews us sampled throughout our trek taste one-dimensional, yet a key of ghormeh sabzi (beef, kidney beans and also herbs) had a entirety dried lime animating the dish through its unique, musky-pungent sourness.

The respond to area at Hen residence Grill feels fairly lifeless — yet walk the end to the patio and, then, aha, here’s the heartening scene: young parents and their children, gatherings of women and also couples, putting the broth from their dizi, nodding approvingly at the juiciness of your kebabs, sipping strong tea v a distant scent of cardamom.

4515 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 786-2000,

Nersses Vanak

If girlfriend live closer to Glendale than to Irvine, this handsomely spare restaurant is your location for dizi; the version below brings the lamb-rich umami depth, a truth listed in a 2016 review by Jonathan Gold. After ~ Helou involved co-owner Romik Abediyan in conversation, asking him about his desired texture that mashed ab-goosht (he pounded that for united state at the table to a close to puree), he brought over a next of seer torshi — little whole heads of pickled garlic, a specialty of coastal Gilan province in northern Iran. Some versions period for a te or more to it is in spreadable favor cheese; this one was young, but its intensity sliced straight through the stew’s meatiness. As a comparison to the stew, sturgeon over dilled rice is an excellent in the simplicity.

6524 san Fernando Road, Glendale, (818) 550-7800,

Shamshiri Grill

Some specials at Shamshiri Grill are obtainable only a few days a week. Tanchin, a savory cake crowned through crimson barberries, is available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Our pick among the larger, older-guard Westwood kebab houses. Helou’s inquisitiveness seemed to irk our surly server, who disappeared for lengthy stretches, however he can not diminish our evaluation of the cooking. Chefs tend the flames and the skewers behind a glassed-in grill; this is a fine place to splurge top top pricier cuts of meat such as rack the lamb kebab. The menu, favor the dining room, sprawls, so the is wise to zero in on the number of specials available only a couple of days a week. The worth protecting against by ~ above Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for tahchin, a savory rice cake combined with yogurt and also egg, layered v chicken or lamb, baked and also crowned with crimson barberries.

1712 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 474-1410,

Worthy stops beyond restaurants:

Sangak at healthy Choice

A shopper at Wholesome an option in Irvine carts away two large pieces the sangak, an Iranian whole-wheat flatbread freckled through sesame seeds
The food court that this Irvine grocery store serves kebabs and also fragrant stews (and also pastas, shawarma and crepes) to a clamoring lunchtime crowd. The market’s true glory, though, is sangak, one Iranian whole-wheat flatbread freckled with sesame seeds; Helou has seen that baked over beds of stones. (Its name translates as “pebbles.”) A heat usually creates for the charred, soft-crisp, 4-foot loaves. We draped our over the prior of a to buy cart and ripped turn off blistering hunks while us wandered the aisles — and we weren’t the just shoppers doing that.

18040 Culver Drive, Irvine, (949) 551-4111,

Sweets in ~ Rex Bakery

Boxes that cookies and also pastries cram every square inch of table space at this no-frills Sawtelle bakery. It’s famed for cream puffs, however we most enjoyed the nan-e nokhodchi — carefully crumbed, cardamom-scented cookies made with chickpea flour.

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1659 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 445-8799

Ice cream in ~ Saffron & Rose

A Westwood community staple — founder Haji Ali Kashani-Rafye come in America in 1974 — sees crowds throughout the day and until it close the door well previous dark. I admire exactly how the shop teams its flavors, by fruit (date, pomegranate and also sour cherry; a refresh cucumber gets lumped in here), floral (jasmine and both pink and also white rose; the latter is subtler) and also chocolate and also nutty (green pistachio, the ubiquitous cookies and also cream). Faloodeh, threaded with thin noodles and scented extravagantly with increased water, and saffron-pistachio hew most closely to tradition, according to Helou. Ns a pan of the orange flower variation; handily, orange flower water doubles as a stomach-calming agent after a long, lengthy day the eating.