I had a group dinner at Shafaa in Hawthorne last night, and can report that this place ranks with the best Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles. It's a former Arabic market which has had a very nice redecorating job and hired a Turkish chef. The daily menu looks Lebanese Arabic with only a few Turkish items, though appearances are deceiving - the names of many Turkish and Arabic items are the same, but the Turkish version is more interesting. As an example, at most restaurants baba ghannouj is just charbroiled eggplant, oil or tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. The Turkish version has several other veggies and a bit of pomegranate juice, which creates a smoky/tart/sweet balance that is wonderful. I have been going to Shafaa for two months before having my dining club there, and now that I've tried the Turkish stuff I'm going to order it more often. Orhan, the chef, would like to have more Turkish items on the menu, but they're labor intensive and not many people know to order them. They do a lot of weddings in the community, and are famous for whole roast goat. We didn't try that - this is from our menu, with my comments after each item:
Hummos - Pretty standard, creamy texture but a bit less garlic than usual.
Barbunya Pilaki: Brown beans, carrots, olive oil, tomato, and herbs - Best with a squeeze of lemon, which wakes up the flavors.
Imam Bayeldi: Fried eggplant with sautéed onion, tomato, and peppers - A standard dish, very well executed.
Babaghannouj: Pureed barbecued vegetables, pomegranate juice & herbs - Best version I've had in LA.
Jajhir: Yoghurt and cucumber salad with mint - Similar to an Indian raita, cool and refreshing.
Potato salad: Who knew Turks make potato salad? Not a typical version either. No mayonnaise, not quite a German potato salad but not etirely different.
Cheese salad: Feta, onion, olive oil, parsley, and lemon - Simple but delightful, made with a low-salt feta.
Choban salad: Mixed vegetable salad with herbs - included grilled cauliflower in a cold salad, which I haven't seen before.
Something we didn't order which I don't know the name of - Paste of ground walnuts, pomegranate jiuce, and herbs, topped with chopped pistachios - Delicious accompaniment to the bread.
Kadin Budu Seasoned beef and rice meatballs with pinenuts, dipped in egg batter and fried - I have made this at home from a cookbook and never knew before if I was doing it right. I wasn't too far wrong, as it turned out. Meatballs with a very moist texture and interesting flavor. Someone told me that something similar is available at lunch and listed on the menu as a hamburger. I would have never known this if someone hadn't told me, because it would have never occurred to me to order a hamburger in a Turkish restaurant. Then again, they also do pretty decent fried chicken, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Kebabs of chicken and beef - the old favorites...
Dessert - Baklava & mint tea
Our dinner ran $25.00 per person for a fifty person group, which was obviously a good day for them - the place is often nearly empty in the evening. Prices on the usual dinners are incredibly cheap - full dinners are less than ten dollars. I hope Chowhounds will patronize this place and encourage them to feature the Turkish items, which are unique in LA as far as I know. (Or is there another Turkish restaurant in LA I don't know about? Please tell me. I heard about one in the Valley, but it apparently shut down after a month.)
Notes: Service at Shafaa is generally slow, so if you're in a hurry you should inform them of the fact. here is a very good vegetarian platter. Meat is Halal, and since the owner is an observant Muslim there is no alcohol, though you may bring it in. Restaurant is hard to see from the street - look for the gigantic sign for the Hometown Buffet. They are two doors south, the one with the Turkish flag in the window.
Shafaa Turkish Restaurant
12211 S. Hawthorne Boulevard