From a reader a couple of weeks back:
I am a LA resident architect guy who plans to come down south with my Palestinian-German girlfriend to have a fine birthday meal with dear old Newport Beach friends in OC this Saturday eve. Inspired by your recent OC Weekly article about Andaluz, we are hoping to have a great meal at an Anaheim Middle Eastern restaurant. We'd appreciate it tremendously if you might make a recommendation for us - what would your favorite place be for a more-rather-than-less elegant meal? Ideally the place would be quiet enough for good conversation, and we are adventurous and open-minded about the food. Your article mentions Kareem's, Olive Tree, Al-Sanabel, and Ara's - any of those could be fine, but I just don't know how they differ from one another.
My response after the jump
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Little Arabia's restaurants aren't as ostentatious as eaters accustomed to Persian palaces in Irvine might expect, namely because Arabs aren't Persians. Most of the restaurants you described are humble, packed places, and while I'd pick them over hoitier-toitier places, methinks you seek something more genteel.
How about Victory Bakery? They do offer a buffet, but Little Arabia's burgeoning politicos hold fundraisers there, and the restaurant's layout is spectacular: tables, flat-screen televisions, and a massive pastry counter created from wood. The recently re-opened Al-Amir Bakery also has aspirations for classiness, with black-and-white pictures of pre-troubles Beirut, dramatic lighting and even non-alcoholic beer. To achieve the truly cosmopolitan feel you seek, visit in the evenings during Ramadan, where the true Muslims of America emerge: not to bomb us, but to grub.
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