Spell it kebab, kabob or kebap. Just as long as the meat is skewered or secured on a spit and roasted over an open flame, you’re taking part in a proud cooking tradition that goes back millennia and spans multiple cultures. Sure, LA has plenty of Armenian bakeries, Persian restaurants and falafel spots to get your fix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, but sometimes you want a good ol' stick of meat. The people of Armenia, Greece, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and more have all contributed to the kebab diaspora in LA—here are 15 leading skewers.
Where to find the city's best kebab plates
Glendale is a hotbed for kebabs, and Adana avoids easy classification. Edward Khechemyan is of Armenian descent, with a father from Iran and a restaurant name that refers to a city in southern Turkey. Basically, Adana is a flavorful mishmash. The restaurant features a neon purple sign, arched walls and hand-painted frescoes. Khechemyan is clearly skilled on the grill, and his best offering is Hatam ($12.50), featuring marinated Cornish game hen, which he dismantles and serves as bone-in, saffron-stained chunks that are perfectly seared. Pita bread and a squeeze-worthy lime round out each plate.
The Tcholakian family opened Carousel in the back corner of East Hollywood’s Hye Plaza in 1983, serving Lebanese-Armenian cuisine, and have since opened a larger location in downtown Glendale. The original location remains a charmer, with minimal decor and a wealth of kebab options, including funky and rarely seen veal liver. Still, it’s Khash-Khash Kebab ($15) that you’ll want. Juicy, well spiced, hand-molded skewers of ground beef lula arrive on a bed of cracked pita, doused with yogurt, garlic and pine nuts. Carousel also has delectable chicken lula. Either way, your meal comes with buttery bulgur and garbanzo beans; grilled pita brushed with tomato sauce; roasted tomatoes and jalapenos; onion and parsley salad dusted with sumac; and a tangy cabbage slaw tossed with tomatoes, herbs and olive oil vinaigrette.
Glendale clearly has a lot to offer when it comes to kebabs. This corner stand from Armenia native Jack Amiran has only outdoor seating, but considering this is Los Angeles, that’s not a problem. Corner Cuisine’s Pork Kebab Plate ($11.95) stars juicy chunks of boneless pork chop served on a bed of nutty rice with a grilled green pepper and tomato; hummus showered with red pepper and olive oil; refreshing parsley and onion salad; lavash bread; and a concentrated tomato paste crafted with onion, cilantro and “secrets” that pairs beautifully with the pork. To drink, consider tangy Armenian yogurt drink or a version with mint if you want less intense sips with your meal.
Amid Studio City's many sushi bars and gastropubs, native Armenian Art Darbinian runs this casual restaurant. The space features a lime green awning, an inviting patio, and a dining room with red walls and a blackboard menu. Their best kebab is chargrilled Beef Lula ($9.95) crafted from an 80/20 beef blend and residual beef fat from Australian shish kebab trimmings. Each plate comes with two sides; we suggest creamy hummus and smoky babaganoush, both blended with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, salt, pepper and tahini. A red onion, parsley and sumac salad adds brightness.
Frank “Mr. Cook” Mazloumi, wife Nahid and their daughters work together to deliver comfort food from the family’s native Tehran. Denj is popular for sandwiches, but people go there for the sheep organs, prepared with impeccable attention to detail. If you're curious but not gung-ho on innards, start with steak-like hearts and rosy kidneys. If you're feeling brave, work your way up to pungent livers, creamy brains and silky domballan, aka Rocky Mountain oysters (aka testicles). This menu might seem daunting, but Mr. Cook knows just how to tend to lamb organs over an open flame.
For nearly four decades, Elena Petikyan and her family have set a standard for Middle Eastern comfort food on a primarily residential stretch of Glendale. The space is fairly spare, except for the provocative mural that features a nude woman on the back of a bull surrounded by frolicking dolphins. Elena’s grill masters can do no wrong, but Lamb Shish Kebab ($10.99) is a star among stars. Pieces of naturally red leg meat are marinated simply with salt and pepper and seared over charcoal in a gas-powered grill. Kebabs come with chicken; chicken-flavored rice, toasted pita and garlic paste; pink pickled cabbage, carrot, turnip and celery; roasted pepper and tomato; raw parsley and white onions; and a choice of either salad or stupendous lentil soup.
This Persian restaurant on Westwood Boulevard (with organe walls and a fiber optic chandelier) grew from a grab-and-go counter inside the adjacent Super Sun market. Farsi still has a case packed with dips, soups and rice dishes, but the focus is on dishes that Farsi staffers prepare to order. Chicken Bone-in with Rice ($13) consists of drumsticks, flaps of meat that are saffron stained and seared on the outside. The kebabs come with saffron rice, grilled tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, and a juicy lime wedge.
Itzik Hagadol Grill, an Israeli import that opened in 2009 and is now run by Yuri Stein, features a covered patio with red awning, wood tables, big booths and a 3-D mural that depicts the Jaffa waterfront. Premium meat includes hormone-free Angus beef and chicken, and baby lamb. Lamb Skewers ($15.99 for one skewer, $23.99 for two skewers) are cooked to order; we recommend medium rare for a rosy, spiced interior with a nice char from the grill. If you order an entree, pay $8.99 more to load up on 20 different house salads, falafel and fresh-baked laffa.
When making the drive between Hollywood and the Valley, most people drive straight through, but we recommend making a stop at Joe's Falafel, a little Universal City strip mall kebab joint. In addition to whole-wheat laffa bread baked in-house, which is well worth the extra $1.50, the star of the menu just might be Beef Kafta ($9.75). Owner Joe Mattar folds ground beef with chopped onions, parsley and spices on skewers. Each plate comes with rice, tahini, pita, rich hummus dressed with olive oil and paprika, and a Greek salad of tomato, lettuce, red onion and feta.
Mahtab Saraf carries on a culinary tradition that her family established in 1969 in Mashad, Iran. She spent 12 years running Kashcool Kitchen in Vancouver before relocating to a Woodland Hills strip mall in 2014. Now the restaurant, named for a traditional Persian carrying case, features a plant-lined patio with a bright yellow roof, as well as a dining room with an elaborate 3-D mural that Saraf’s husband carved to tell the story of Kouroush and the first kingdom of Iran. Saraf’s kebab skills may soon be just as legendary. Filet Mignon Chenjeh Kabob ($20) features 12 ounces of skewered filet mignon kabob that are marinated with onion, saffron and proprietary spices. Juicy flame-licked beef comes with grilled tomato and saffron basmati rice—unless you upgrade your rice for $3 (we recommend the sour cherry rice with fried onion).
The Ghadanian family run this flavorful Syrian restaurant in a Van Nuys strip mall, where brothers Raffy and George serve a menu that features some interesting Syrian dishes, including Antakali Kebab ($15). Four ground beef lula kebabs are served under grilled pita topped with a tangy, spiced mix of onion, tomato and pine nuts. Each entrée comes with grilled tomato and shaved raw onions dusted with tart, lemony sumac.
Elie Janesian, who ran a falafel stand in Aleppo, Syria, and worked as a jeweler after immigrating to LA, now runs this Middle Eastern restaurant with his wife Talin and daughter Karen in a Lake Balboa strip mall. Koko’s Eggplant Kebab ($14) is particularly impressive, with alternating layers of smoky eggplant and minced meat (70% beef chuck and 30% lamb ribs). Two kebabs come with grilled pita, onion salad, tomato, jasmine rice and a vegetable plate that includes raw radish, jalapeño and an array of pickled vegetables: cabbage, cucumber and hot pink turnips.
Ovakim Martirosyan and his wife tend to a long and lean stovetop grill in a tiny, three-table kabob house on a Glendale side street. The Mini Kabob Plate ($9.95) features small lula kebabs of either beef chuck or chicken thigh, plus salt, pepper, onion and a special "green plant" that Martirosyan refuses to reveal. Each plate comes with rice, blistered tomato, spicy jalapeño, onion, parsley and sumac salad; a basket of lavash; and a tiny ramekin of garlicky, Aleppo pepper-dusted hummus.
This Persian-Armenian restaurant from Raffi Bakijanian and wife Gohar is located around the corner from Glendale’s bustling Brand Boulevard. Since 1993, they’ve overseen an open-air restaurant with brick front that is often packed with families and large groups. In a sea of Koobideh ($13), the popular ground beef skewers, Raffi’s stands out. Each plate comes with savory charbroiled kebabs, buttery saffron rice, blistered tomatoes and lemons for squeezing. For $2 more, you can super-charge your kebabs with flavored rice, possibly Zereshk Polo: basmati rice mixed with barberries and saffron for s a sweet-tart flavor that tempers the meat’s richness.
Sako’s originated in Granada Hills but moved behind Reseda's Venetian Palace banquet hall in 2002. John and Ani Panosian took over the restaurant in 2006 and kept the name of the original owner. The classic Turkish dish at Sako's features seasoned beef sirloin stacked on a spit and blistered at the edges. Sako’s Special (aka Iskender) ($16.50) is shaved meat served on pita and topped with spicy tomato sauce in the middle of a moat of tangy yogurt. Order rice to soak up the delectable sauce.