Laurel Canyon at Oxnard
I won't bother pretending to be neutral about this. I love it. It's pure Chowhound gold. I've been going to Skaf's for two years now, since one of my clients is just walking distance away. I once altered flight plans to fly into Burbank rather than LAX when I heard that he had his baked kefta on the menu.
This is a Lebanese place in an unassuming minimall with a 7-11 and "Nozawa Japanese Restaurant" (no, not THAT Nozawa) right next to the 170 freeway. In terms of décor, well, it's pretty sad really. There are some pictures of Lebanon framed on the walls, but it's a very bare-bones place.
The place is run by Salim Skaf with help from his nephew and some hired help. The menu board features the usual Lebanese business - shish tawook, shish kebab, kefta kebab, maanek, soujoukh, foul, labneh, falafel, shawarma, &c.
While the menu board items are all tasty and well-prepared, that's not what draws me to Skaf's even from my office in San Francisco. It's his daily specials.
Typical daily specials include baked kefta (basically Lebanese meatloaf with potatoes and a thin tomato sauce), baked kibbeh (meatballs with bulgur in them, also with potatoes), lemon chicken (an enormous breast of chicken cooked with spices, lemon, and sprinkled with cheese), and loubia (a beef and green been stew).
All the specials come with a rather vinegary salad made from cabbage and tomatoes, the best hummus this side of the hill, rice, and 2 rounds of pita bread.
Today's special was stuffed eggplant. A half eggplant, stuffed with ground beef, tomatoes, spices, and pine nuts, and cooked in that same delicious tomato sauce, served on top of perfectly cooked long grain rice. Absolutely delicious.
The service is friendly but certainly not formal. Unless you want a fountain drink, you grab your drink (I happen to love tahn, the yoghurt drink) out of the cooler and sit down. If you call ahead, Salim will have your salad waiting for you when you get there. He's genuinely worried about what you'll think of his cooking and will suggest the specials. Take his advice, they really are better.
Best of all is the price. Daily specials range from $5.95 for the stuffed eggplant special today to $7.95 for the baked kefta, which is an enormous portion. (There's sometimes a $10.95 "rib eye" steak but I have yet to see anyone order it.)
Go, go, go. Tell him Tom and Dave sent you. You won't be sorry.