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Little Arabia Grows Up

[Hole In the Wall] Andaluz Restaurant and Bakery spins a sublime shawarma

One of the first food reviews I wrote for this rag was an overview of the Arab restaurants on Anaheim’s stretch of Brookhurst Street, between La Palma and Katella avenues (see “Gaza Strip Mall,” July 26, 2001). The area has grown even larger since we published that article, becoming one of the largest Middle Eastern neighborhoods in the United States outside the Detroit metropolitan area, and I’m proud to say the Weekly’s food section has covered its emergence better than any other paper in Southern California.

Now comes word that a group of young Arab-Americans is trying to build popular support and plans to ask the Anaheim City Council to designate the area as Little Arabia, which would be Orange County’s third officially designated ethnic enclave after Little Saigon and Little Seoul. A brilliant idea, one that should draw non-Arabs and foodies to the many great restaurants we’ve reviewed over the years— among the best are Kareem’s, Olive Tree, Al-Sanabel Bakery and Ara’s Pastry. The day the council approves this, all readers should eat at the restaurants I mentioned, then retire to Andaluz Restaurant and Bakery.

I actually reviewed the dive when it was known as Cedar Bakery and resisted its new incarnation because of my unofficial policy to not write about the same location twice. But I cannot deny Andaluz’s shawarma: the massive cylinder of compacted beef and chicken twirling like the Earth on its axis, lusciously slow, until its juices seep inside. They shave the shawarma into long, thin petals, serving it alongside steaming mounds of rice. It’s probably the second-best shawarma in Little Arabia after Sahara Falafel, and it’s a meal of wonder.

The other choices at Andaluz work, but you can find better versions up or down Brookhurst—falafels, sphihas, kebabs. Much better is the mansaf, a pilaf of sorts that finds lamb cooked in yogurt, then splayed on top of yellow rice: tangy, earthy, delicious. But that and other regional specialties (mandi from Yemen, Saudi kabsa) pop up intermittently or only on specific days. Always smoking, however, is the hookah tent. Little Arabia has at least half a dozen hookah lounges, not to mention the dozens of impromptu tables set up outside restaurants to allow men to smoke the shishah away. Andaluz’s might be the best, not only because of the food options, but also thanks to the crowd—young, old, English- and Arab-speaking, Orange County’s Middle Easterners are downright American in their search for a great way to end the night and get accepted by the mainstream.

Andaluz Restaurant and Bakery, 930 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 991-6300.

garellano@ocweekly.com

 
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