Manakeesh‘s Orange County moment for the L.A. Times:
PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES
There’s a moment in a cuisine’s acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.
Like banh mi before them, manakeesh have here become the accepted ambassadors of an entire region, pizza-like flatbreads thin as gauzy sheets of vellum. At Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress, restaurants already in the purview of the county’s most seasoned eaters, they’re an herb-rubbed and meat-smeared gateway to the eastern Mediterranean.
Anaheim’s Zait & Za’atar is a big step toward manakeesh modernity. The city’s Little Arabia is already crowded with similarly specialized Lebanese bakeries, but Zait & Za’atar may be the most accessible. It’s a case of aesthetics — brick-red walls and a counter set in stone — but, more important, one of clarity, as the restaurant plainly details every dish.
Long Beach’s newest Lebanese restaurant for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Baba Ghanouj is brushed with the kind of rustic, earthen patina that colors all of Long Beach’s Lebanese restaurants, a brassy sheen that instantly cultivates an antique atmosphere. It’s a calculated design decision that not only lays out the restaurant’s commitment to the usual Lebanese tropes, but also makes the place already feel like a years-old fixture. This maturity is crucial because Baba Ghanouj is but a months-old newcomer, a Bixby Knolls restaurant far away from the Second Street stalwarts that control so much of the local Lebanese cooking.
Alone as it is in uptown’s so-called Little Italy, Baba Ghanouj doesn’t have to deal with the constant competition that drives spots like Open Sesame and Sunnin. But because of that relatively frictionless existence, the restaurant, which took over the Atlantic Avenue space vacated by Four Olives, can be comfortable in its classicism—Baba Ghanouj doesn’t deliver any surprises, but it nevertheless charts a steady, pleasant course.
From this week’s District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Sunnin is a restaurant turned outside-in, an alleyway of a place where fake balconies bulge out of the wall and decorative shutters stay permanently sealed. In that faux courtyard, the restaurant feels as though it has an open-air café stuck inside, lights streaming off the street and air rushing in with the kind of deadening warmth that usually crawls out of the start of fall.