Eat This Now: Cheese and Zaatar Sphiha at Al Amir

Don't call it a pizza.
Don't call it a pizza.
Edwin Goei

There are so many iterations of the post-Pieology pizza joint these days, it's hard to tell them apart. But the new Al Amir in Irvine is immediately distinguishable from the rest. First of all, its dining room is sparse, looking as though the contractors stopped mid-job. And second, while it serves what can be thought of pizzas--since they're round, slid in an oven, has toppings, and a thin crust--they are not pizzas; they're sphihas. What's a sphiha? The Lebanese term for fresh-baked flat bread topped with all manner of delicious things like zaatar (an herb mixture with thyme) and soujouk (sausage).

If you read this humble rag, you'd also know that Al Amir is a branch of the Anaheim institution that predated all the Pielogies and Blazes at least by a decade. And when you go to either of Al Amir's branches, ignore the one with onions, mushroom and peppers actually called "pizza". It's nearly double the price of the other sphihas, but doesn't taste much different than something from a frozen box of Celeste. What you want is everything else, epecially the cheese and zaatar, a harmonious union of tangy cheese bubbled over the pesto-like greenness of the ubiquitous Middle-Eastern herb mix. You eat it trying not to burn the roof of your mouth, marveling how the hot-out-of-the-oven, crispy chewy thin crust rivals the best slices in New York even if it's not a pizza; it's a sphiha.

14141 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, CA 92620, (949) 988-7554

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