Little Arabia Grows Up

Can one of the country's largest Middle Eastern neighborhoods patch up its rivalries to become OC's next famous ethnic enclave?

The opinions of elected officials on the Anaheim City Council also differ, and there has been no solid statement of full support. "I've heard both sides of the arguments," says councilwoman Lorri Galloway. "Some people say it might be better for business; some people would rather be integrated, rather than segregated. To me, I would like to know what the majority of the Arab-American community thinks. I would love to take it to the community and understand the pulse of the community."

Mayor Tom Tait is more decisive. "Anaheim has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the nation," he says. "We celebrate the rich array of businesses that have thrived in our city, and designating one area of Anaheim for one group does not serve our city's efforts to encourage freedom—and impartiality—in our relationship with all our businesses."

* * *

Ready for its close-up
Mary Pastrana
Ready for its close-up
Omar Masry sits at a shopping center in Little Arabia
Mary Pastrana
Omar Masry sits at a shopping center in Little Arabia

Location Info

Map

Olive Tree

512 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 3
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

Forn Al Hara

512 S. Brookhurst, Ste. 5
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Anaheim

Kareem's Restaurant

1208 S. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Anaheim

Across Brookhurst Street from Altayebat Market, past Ball Road, is Kareem Mediterranean Restaurant, Little Arabia's longest-standing Middle Eastern eatery, opened in 1996 by Mike and Nancy Hawari. Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape" plays on the kitchen radio as Mike, wearing a double-breasted black chef's coat and toque, brings a four-piece falafel plate with rounds of hummus and baba ghanoush. His falafels are browned and crispy on the outside, but reveal an emerald-green interior of garbanzo goodness when bitten into.

"As far as politics, I am not a politician, and I don't get into it," he says. "However, I do read stories about the Middle East and the corruption that's happening in the Arab world. Of course, I don't like it."

Born in Nazareth in 1962, Hawari has seen many restaurants in Little Arabia open and close, so he understands the benefit of an officially designated enclave. "Little Arabia will be good if we have it like Little Saigon," Hawari says. "If you go to Westminster, you will go to one shopping center, and you will see five or six restaurants—the same food, the same people, and they are all busy, and they all are making money. Our problem is that we are combined in businesses only. We do not have that many Arabs living in Anaheim."

Mainstream-media exposure helped to bring the restaurant a broader clientele—he has received accolades from the Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, OC Weekly and many other publications. Last year, he appeared on NBC's Today In LA's weekend show for a chef segment, after which his business increased dramatically. His base Arab clientele mostly missed it "because they watch Al Jazeera, or they have their own satellite," he says with a laugh. "But yes, we had a lot of American folks who came here. They loved our food, and they are coming back."

As the conversation comes to a close, a white gentleman and his female friend from Placentia are seated. They are the type of people who will make or break the Little Arabia movement: outsiders looking for a dash of culture, hold the internal politics.

Hawari immediately attends to them. He asks if it's their first time here. No, they reply, they were here about a year ago.

"Well, where have you been?" Hawari replies gently, before the two place their orders and enjoy the rest of the night.

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