This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Halal burgers at Al Wadee

More than the deli, more than the sushi bar, more than your high school buffet line, the burger stand is America's true melting pot: a cheap, easy-to-run business where immigrant entrepreneurs learn the art of America's favorite fast-food meal while sneaking in bits and pieces of their own ethnic cuisine. The burger stand is where Southern Californians first came to love the gyro, the teriyaki bowl, the pastrami burrito, the carne asada taco. Now Muslims join the melting-pot game with the recently opened Al Wadee in Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave.

Al Wadee occupies the spot that once housed Roland's Burgers and Shakes, which entertained generations of Anaheim teens with its yummy combos, outside seating, ample parking, late hours and take-out window. A couple of years ago, to stave off extinction in the face of West Anaheim's changing demographics, Roland's started offering its burgers, shakes and fries halal-style—prepared according to Islamic dietary laws similar to the more-familiar kosher.

Those burgers and shakes still exist on Al Wadee's menu, and they remain delicious: giant burgers melted with double slices of Cheddar and glops of Thousand Island best washed down with a thick, frothy, chocolaty shake. Al Wadee also sells crispy chicken wings, chicken sandwiches and all the sodas and Snapples you expect from a burger stand. But the inevitable march of time forced the owners to offer a full Middle Eastern eatery featuring the regulars of any Middle Eastern restaurant: hummus, pita sandwiches of shawerma, moist grape leaves wrapped around garlic-tinged white rice, falafels. Those standards are . . . well, standard, so stick with the non-American specialties. Start with the sphihas, Lebanese pizzas made with toasted pita and a thin layer of ingredients. Pick the one with lahm bajeen, grenadine syrup-spiked minced beef transformed into a moist spread and speckled with pepper flakes. Follow that with a crispy spinach pie or a breakfast casserole called fatteh—chicken with yogurt, onion and pita bread, the perfect tart start for your day.

And, as at any classic American burger stand, order some fried goodies—in this case, Al Wadee's cheese sticks. These aren't the stretchy, oily joys of country fairs but something better: dignified rods with a sweet crust encasing milky cheese with parsley—refreshing, sweet, Muslim, American, heaven.

AL WADEE, 10441 S. MAGNOLIA, ANAHEIM, (714) 828-2770.

 
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