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SF Armenian Food Scene - Why So Few Choices?

wedgeheadjunkie | Dec 31, 200310:47 AM

Having grown up in the Armenian community of Fresno, Calif., I often find myself craving Armenian food that I remember from my childhood. I am talking about lamb shish kebab, luleh kabob (hamburger and/or lamb), chicken, lahmajoon (thin-crust "pizza" made with very finely ground lamb, cumin, mint, onions), sheikh el-mekhshi (aka "imam bayaldi" or stuffed eggplant), bastourma (similar to dried pastrami), soujuk (raw, cured spicy sausages), dolma, sarma, etc.

I've been transplanted here in SF for the last 23 years or so, and still have yet to find many Armenian restaurants that can match what I grew up with. So of course, when friends ask me for my favorite recommendations, the best one I can recommend today would be "my mother's house!" Others high on my list are the annual October-ish Armenian Food Festivals such as St. John's "Taste of Armenia" (Olympia Way, just off of 7th Avenue) and the wonderful St. Gregory's 3-day binge on Brotherhood Way. St. Vartan's over in Oakland has a good one, too.

With such a large Hye community in the SF Bay Area, one would think there would be plenty of nice choices here which, while maybe not rivaling those in the Glendale, CA area such as Raffi's Place, Carousel, Elena's, would still satisfy at least a general craving now and then. Sadly, though, there seems to be a real lack of such authentic Armenian choices up here.

That's not to say there are not some very good deli's such as Zand's Specialty market over in Albany, or Haig's Delicacies on Clement here in the City for a good selection of general Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goods. However, what I am looking for is a real sit-down restaurant dedicated to serving the above-mentioned dishes all under one roof -- and not just once a year.

I am craving the kind of food that leaves you satisfied for several days after you've floated out the door in a satiated haze -- the kind of food that represents a one-way ticket (not round trip) to culinary nirvana. The kind of food that leaves you not able to even remember where you parked your own car on the way to the place. The kebabs I am after have a crisp outer crust but an inside soft and rich, with juices overflowing with subtle taste sensation flavors exploding on one's palate.

I did find a good one in Sunnyvale a few years ago -- The Armenian Gourmet, I think -- and recently, thanks to a Chowhound link, found Leila's Mediterranean in the Crocker Galleria. I still have yet to try a couple more on Kearny (Ali Baba and Bayaldi), and also Bursa Kebab in West Portal. Aside from the other various Turkish and Mediterranean ones, though (Helmand, A la Turka, Koubadeh, Traktir), there really does seem to be a paucity of genuine Armenian restaurants up here in SF.

One of my New Year's resolutions for the coming year will be to find more of these types of places and share them with fellow Chowhounds. With your help, I am optimistic I'll succeed.

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