Food Factory Grill: A Karahi By Any Other Name

Oh, what an unfortunate name and logo Food Factory Grill in Lake Forest has! It sounds like a warehouse in Vernon, failing to tell commuters who spot its sign just before the El Toro Y what kind of food it serves. And the logo is worse: a white silhouette of two kebabs, drawn so that it turns into an inadvertent Rorschach test. Do they resemble pine trees? A pile of heads looking at one another? Other simulacra even more unfortunate that I won't mention because I want you to try this place?

The bigger tragedy is that Food Factory Grill is a fine restaurant, Lake Forest's latest effort to solidify its dual title as Orange County's most underrated food city and as South County's most cosmopolitan town. The food is a combination of Pakistani (strong curries, basmati rice, a well-grilled chapati, the subcontinent's version of a hamburger patty) and Persian (kebabs, from juicy chicken breast to an array of koobideh; an awesome rendition of faloodeh, the Persian ice cream treat that finds pistachios, almonds and vermicelli noodles tossed over rosewater ice cream) favorites, streamlined to attract mainstream customers. A necessary move, I guess, because there's no other way to get South County eaters to try the karahi, a wok meal that finds chicken or shrimp sautéed with tomatoes and ginger, an oily cluster bomb of flavor with a furtive burn that won't catch up to you until you cough half an hour later. Accompanying all combo platters is a chutney that's really more of a raita and crisp, thick naan that is spectacular, so huge the owners bring it to you on top of a basket because it can't fit inside.

I hope Food Factory stays in business for a while; every time I go, its spacious restaurant with art out of a Tehran gallery circa 1968 is empty, save for workers lugging to-go bags. Then again, maybe it doesn't need my suggestions; the logo says Food Factory Grill has been in business since 1986 (although this location is about a year old), and framed certificates from Zagat attest to its popularity over the years. Maybe the bad name is reverse psychology; it's so bad you have to go in to see what restaurant could possibly be so clueless, have to order initially out of pity, and then you taste the karahi and fall for the naan, and you have a customer for life. Who's the fool now?


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