Aleppo's Kitchen Is a Syrian Stunner
They weren't prepared for me—or anyone, for that matter—the first time I visited Aleppo's Kitchen. The Little Arabia restaurant hadn't been open for more than a week, just as Ramadan was starting, and the staff was feverishly preparing for the masses of Muslims who would break their fast that evening. Tents covered the patio; buffet trays lined all possible walls. When I asked if the restaurant was serving lunch, the staff essentially shushed me out, like an aunt gently booting out the kids from the kitchen when she's baking a batch of cookies.
Even as I walked in, I sensed something great. The name, of course, refers to the legendary Syrian city, and its logo featured the Citadel of Aleppo, one of the oldest castles on Earth. Inside, a massive mural laid out the town in better times. Wood, copper and marble decorated the rest of the restaurant (even the coffee machine was masked in arabesque designs), along with wrought-iron chandeliers. And the best part about Aleppo's Kitchen was its location: hidden on the working-class Brookhurst Street, separated from civilization by huge gates that open to a secret parking lot. But the food? I'd have to wait until after Ramadan.
I finally returned a couple of weeks ago, and Aleppo's matched all my expectations. Staying true to its name, the restaurant features Aleppine specialties, starting with its kibbeh. Most Middle Eastern restaurants in Orange County offer this carnivorous cousin of falafels, a fried ball of minced lamb and beef mixed with bulghur wheat and pine nuts; but there are nine incredible versions here, from ones covered in pistachio dust to others as turgid as a cigar, to a raw variety that's like the most intense carpaccio you'll ever taste. The rest of the menu is a feast of regional rarities you won't find anywhere else, including olives drenched in pomegranate sauce; a fermented goat cheese spread; and muhammara, a walnut paste spiked with Aleppo peppers and olive oil that's as decadent as it sounds. There are regular shawerma, falafel and kebab plates, but consider yourself pendejo if you side with those—they're fine, but you're at a Syrian restaurant, not Papa Hassan's.
And the service? Splendid. The same people who had seemed so fretful around Ramadan welcomed my pal and I, even though we had entered the restaurant five minutes after its opening. Even then, I saw the owners planning for more to come, further solidifying Aleppo's Kitchen as the latest Little Arabia must-visit. Besides, any restaurant that stocks Vimto, the English soda that's a staple of the Middle East, is fine by me—but, befitting of Aleppo's location, it's an off-menu special.
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