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Explorations on Brookhurst: Al-Sanabel, Anaheim

Das Ubergeek | Feb 12, 2008 08:07 PM

It was hot.

It was way too hot to stand in the kitchen -- or outside -- roasting pasillas and making picadillo to stuff them with.

So I punted on the chiles rellenos and suggested Kareem's. Their menu said they were open until 9. "I'll have falafel with eggplant," said my wife. "Take the baby, you can give her her bottle while you wait for the food."

The problem is that Kareem's was closed -- as was nearly everything else in Little Gaza, at 18:15 on a Tuesday. I hate having to call my wife, having been sent out for falafel eggplant, with a question about what she wants from Cortina's or Alerto's.

Al-Sanabel is a real find. You'd never go there unless you knew, because it's labelled helpfully in Arabic and as "Al-Sanabel". Only the fact that it looked like a restaurant and had people inside drew me in. It's larger than you expect, it's spotless, and while it's not going to win any decor awards, it's also not a hole-in-the-wall.

They specialise in sfiha, which is essentially Lebanese pizza. It's a lot like lahmajune, the Armenian minced lamb-and-tomato flatbread, but Al-Sanabel have a dozen or more varieties.

I ended up ordering a falafel plate ($4.75, comes with seven falafelim, a huge pile of pickle, radishes with celery, tahini, tomatoes and pita), a hummus plate ($3.99: hummus, pickled turnip, olives, pita), and four sfiha: one with lamb, yoghurt and pomegranate; one with lamb and tomato (lahmajune); one with cheese and spinach; and one with cheese and za'atar (herb and spice mixture). The sfiha run from $1.25 for just za'atar and oil to $3.50 for the works.

After about 10 minutes -- not quite long enough for Die Uberbaby to suck down her milk -- my name was called, I paid and took the food -- and the baby -- out to the car. The whole way back to East Anaheim I had to smell the tantalising aromas coming from the floor of the passenger seat.

Let's dispense with the falafel -- tasty but nothing special, though the pickles were quite good and the tomatoes surprisingly tasty for it being 12th February -- and the hummus, which was quite competently done but slightly goopy and not anywhere near the gold standard of hummus (that'd be Skaf's).

The sfiha were -- incredible. Each is about the diametre of a CPK pizza, but they are either folded in half or rolled so they're about the shape of a calzone. The winner -- by far -- was the cheese and za'atar. It was so good that I am sitting here at 21:01, just over two hours after I ate it, thinking about how I can wangle my schedule tomorrow to be able to go have one for lunch. The cheese and spinach was similarly good -- and my wife's comment was that sometimes a load of spinach causes a "gritty" or "metallic" taste in one's mouth, but this wasn't one of those times. And when I say a "load", I mean there was a LOT of spinach in that thing! The lahmajune was very good, quite well-spiced. The only one I wouldn't invite back to my table was the sfiha shamiah, with yoghurt and pomegranate -- the tanginess of the ingredients with the meat was not a happy marriage in my mouth.

The best thing is the price -- one sfiha is enough for a lunch, especially if you get a dip, or maybe a small salad, or even some pickles. Two is a full-on meal. Sfiha with just za'atar and oil is $1.25; most are $2.75, and "the works" is $3.50.

Go. Have some sfiha. It's another of those beautiful discoveries that make Brookhurst Street the Chow axis of Orange County.

Sanabel Bakery
816 S Brookhurst St, Anaheim, CA 92804

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