I'm Israeli and a foodie - enough said, right?
Probably my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in LA, especially for the money, is Carnival in Sherman Oaks.
4356 Woodman Ave (North of Ventura Blvd)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423-3031
This is a Lebanese place and is totally mobbed by a nice, healthy, politically inspiring mixture of Arabs, Armenians & Israelis at all times. But it's pretty large and you don't usually have to wait for very long, although the service (as in most Middle Eastern places) is pretty bad. You get used to it though. And it's cheap, especially if you go with a group and share stuff.
Here's what to get: The lamb and beef kabobs - they come with delicious fries and Middle Eastern salad, although this salad inexplicably has lettuce in it, making it necessary to order fattoush - which is delicious Arabic salad with sumac and toasted pita bread croutons. The standard mezze platter is excellent, with great hummus, great tabouli. The grilled vegetable platter is great. The Tuesday special is lamb shank - delicious. The Wednesday special is baked kefta in tomato sauce - also yummy. The kubbe - bulgur fried dumplings stuffed with meat and pine nuts - are to die for, both with the yogurt or tehine that comes with them (but ask for chopped parsley to put in your tehine, which for some reason arrives naked). The hummus with meat is real good too, as is the shwarma. And the grape leaves are excellent.
I've tried the labne (yogurt cheese-dip) - not so good here, and the specials on Monday (maluchia) and Friday (stuffed chicken) aren't very good. Don't remember the Thursday special.
304 N Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203
5112 Hollywood Blvd around Normandie. 323-660-8060.
I've only been to the Hollywood location, which is in a strip mall in the middle of Thai town. Delicious Lebanese-Armenian food. I had lamb kabobs with yogurt sauce, which were great. Also had terrific fattoush and some great mezze, like a warm vegetarian moussaka. This was however a bit pricey, and they don't have a good cheap mezze platter - I think it's something like $25 per person with a 2-person minimum. No fair, especially since the mezze looked really great. This is also in a strip mall with zero atmosphere, but I don't really care when it comes to Middle Eastern food.
8566 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035-2410
Mmmmmm... Yemeni-Israeli food just like my grandmother used to make. The things to avoid here are the meat entree dishes. They aren't so wonderful (you can get much better kabobs at Carnival, Carousel or Marouch) and come with soggy overcooked vegetables. But it is very easy to get stuffed here on the SOUPS (esp the white bean, the Yemeni beef, & the lentil) which are huge and delicious, the MEZZE (the combo platter comes with about 10 of them, probably half of which are eggplant variations - all delicious), the Iraqi Sandwich (Fried eggplant, tehine, long-cooked hard-boiled egg, and tomato - MMMMMM), the Salufa (Yemeni fried bread, similar to Naan - usually they only have it on the weekends, but you should order yours ahead - the Iraqi Sandwich on Salufa is great), the Israeli Salad (don't let them pad yours with filler lettuce!) and the Mellawach with toppings (yet another kind of Yemeni fried bread, greasier than Salufa). Make sure to ask for zchug on the side - Yemeni hot sauce, pronounced z'khoog.
YUM. Also they have pickled beets which I LOVE. And their breakfasts are great, if you like Israeli breakfasts - ie shakshuka (sunny-side-up eggs in a pepper & tomato sauce), ful medames (fava beans), Israeli salad, etc. They also have hilbeh, which is a sauce made of fenugreek that you are supposed to eat with bread. It is supposedly responsible for the extremely low rate of heart disease among Yemenis, because it lowers cholesterol. However, I think it's disgusting, despite the multiple attempts by my father to make me like it.
Oh yes and they also have Mellawach, a kind of Yemeni fried bread with all kinds of toppings. If you like Mellawach, this is the place. Personally I find it too greasy, but that's mellawach in general, not mellawach here.
Please note the restaurant is glatt kosher, which means lots of Orthodox Jews with huge families, and it's closed Friday afternoon and Saturday all day & night... exactly when I always feel like going there.
4905 Santa Monica Blvd (btwn Normandie & Vermont), Tu-Su 11-11. 323-662-9325.
Another really good Lebanese-Armenian, less pricey than Carousel, but slightly less good as well. I've been here about 3 times and all 3 times, our party was the only occupied table in there. But they had really good food, especially the meat-yogurt dishes and the makanek sausages.
11711 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604-2616
on Ventura Blvd. around White Oak Blvd. in Encino
This is by far the best falafel in LA as far as I'm concerned. Small falafel, crispy on the outside, melting-in-your-mouth soft on the inside and bright green with parsley. And they have terrific salads to put inside your pita with the falafel - try the Moroccan carrot salad, any of the various eggplant salads, or the Turkish salad. Really great and cheap, although the attitude of the people behind the counter could be improved upon (as usual in Middle Eastern places - oh well). I don't understand people who like the dry-as-a-bone, gigantic crusty falafel at Falafel King or Eat a Pita. Yuck.
14500 Ventura Blvd (at Beverly Glen)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
This little hole-in-the-wall is owned by an Israeli Arab guy whose brother used to go to school with my dad, and so I always get extra treats here. Hurray for Middle Eastern hospitality. He says he liked the location because it has a low ceiling, not much space, and basically feels like a typical dive in the Old City in Jerusalem, and it's true. Tons of Israelis eat here. The things to get are shwarma, hummus, labne-vegetable sandwiches, and various kabob sandwiches. They make Iraqi pitas (the giant kind, also called lafas) but they're not that great. Pretty good and cheap, but not worth driving across town for.
Cafe du Liban
19223 Ventura Blvd
Tarzana, CA 91356-3122
The thing I get here is the LABNE SANDWICH (labne is yogurt cheese) in an Iraqi pita with zaatar (a spice mix), pitted kalamata olives, olive oil and Arabic salad. Yum! Haven't really tried the other items on the menu, I just love labne.
716 Santa Monica Blvd (7th), Santa Monica. 310-393-2913.
This place really does have an unfortunate name, though Sham in Hebrew (and I assume in Arabic too) means "over there." I've only been here once so far - I suspect that will change since I've just moved to the area. And I remember it was pretty good, and that unfortunately is all I remember.
In the Farmer's Market, 3rd/Fairfax
Quite good pita-kabob stand with good salads & good french fries too, though I haven't tried the falafel - too scared of disappointment. I was scared to try this place for years because Moishe is a very Ashkenazi name, ie Eastern European, and I assumed it wouldn't be any good. Shows how much I know.
Tarzana Armenian Deli
18598 Ventura, 2 blks W of Reseda, Tarzana, 818-881-6278, M-Sa 9-8, Su 11-5. Also at 22941 Ventura in Woodland Hills, 818-225-1854.
Their red tabbouleh and their eggplant-tomato salad are SOOOO good. I have no idea what makes their tabbouleh red - anyone know? They also have perfectly good regular tabouleh (ie green). I'm not a huge fan of lavosh sandwiches but other people seem to like them.
17145 Ventura Blvd btwn White Oak and Balboa, Encino
Also a location in Glendale, I believe.
Armenian bakery with by far the best baklava and the best selection in town. Personally I'm not a giant fan of what Americans tend to think of as baklava, ie the regular phyllo super-sweet stuff with pistachios or walnuts. But they also have tons of noodle-based pastries, like the burma (stuffed with pistachios) that are my favorite, as well as knafe b'jibin (warm cheese pastry with an orange topping), maamoul (date-stuffed cookies), and basbousa (semolina cake, sometimes known as nammoura or pishpishti) - although of course these all have different names in Armenian! And they have espresso. AND they ship across the country!
1422 Westwood N of Ohio, 310-470-9131, Su-Th 11:30-11, F 11:30-mid., Sa 11:30-3pm.
I'm not Persian, but there sure are a lot of Persians in this place, and it really is delicious. Everything I tried has been good - all the stews, the kebobs, the great fresh Iranian flat bread (freshly flame-broiled in the restaurant). Mmmmm.
I've also been to Shimshiri just down the block, and I think it was even better than Shahrazad.
on Ventura Blvd around Haskell, in Encino
Really good Persian restaurant with great chicken kabobs and stews... though I haven't been there for years.
On Ventura Blvd around White Oak, in Encino
This is an Israeli bakery/cafe open very late (except Fridays). It is always packed with Israelis and is very very loud... especially inside. But at least inside people aren't smoking in your face, on the unfortunately enclosed patio. But it does feel exactly like an Israeli cafe and has cafe food - ie not grill-hummus-etc. The nice things here are the burekas (filo pastry stuffed with cheese, potatoes, etc); the sambusac (non-filo pastry stuffed with various combinations of tuna, eggplant, cheese, potatoes, hot sauce, etc); the salads (huge); the coffee and smoothies (esp the mint-lemonade bright green smoothie); and the bagel toasts (a sesame round bread, which doesn't taste at all like a bagel but kind of looks like one, stuffed with various fillings). Delicious. Good omelettes too, though the shakshuka here is overpriced and not that great.
Bagel place on the corner of La Brea & Poinsettia, next to Susina
The bagels here are just terrible. It's a Sephardic family and they make great burekas - potato, potato-mushroom, spinach, and cheese.
Pico near Normandie
Greek kind of counts as Middle Eastern... very similar food. Cheap & yummy for gyros, kabobs, etc. And they have galactoburitos, which are a Greek pastry with cheese that I love.
So, any more ideas? Especially from the Armenians, the Persians, the Lebanese, the various other Middle Eastern countries represented around LA? I haven't been to Wahib's, which I've heard is great, or Aladdin. I know there should be some good places in OC too, because there are a lot of Palestinians who live there. Enlighten us please!