Middle Eastern Pizza!
Arab OC collectively wailed earlier this year when a fire destroyed Al Amir Bakery, one of only two restaurants in Orange County that specialized in freshly made flatbreads covered with ingredients that we unimaginative food critics deem Middle Eastern pizzas but are actually called sphihas. The building that housed Al Amir is still abandoned, fenced off with no visible, current construction plans. Most of its clientele walked down Brookhurst Street to the older Al Sanabel Bakery, but a new option recently opened in the same shopping plaza: Forn Al Hara.
The large bakery (whose name, according to my Google Arabic, means “Neighborhood Oven”) is gorgeous, emblematic of Little Arabia’s second wave of restaurants, which places as much of an emphasis on ambiance as on cuisine. A mural depicting morning in a Levantine village adorns its western wall, focused on a bare-armed baker shoving bread into an earthen oven. The scene is nearly identical to what happens around the clock at Forn Al Hara, except the ovens are top-of-the-line and span the restaurant. Everything is made to order, so do excuse the wait. You can watch your sphiha transform within minutes from a white dough ball into an uncooked disk laden with toppings, then into a crispy, luscious meal.
Forn Al Hara doesn’t feature the most extensive of menus: about a dozen sphihas; free mint tea; a pastry counter; and spinach sambouseks, crispy, triangle-shaped pastries you can take home by the dozen. But who needs variety when such cheap, delicious dishes are ready for easy eating? Four sphihas feature zaatar, the herb-and-spice mixture that alternately refreshes and zings. Zaatar with salty cheese is like a quesadilla; the zaatar and labneh (Lebanese cream cheese) sphiha comes rolled up like a burrito, a presentation that melts the labneh slices into a gooey surprise.
Another features soujouk, the Armenian sausage here transformed into a paste that looks like refried beans but retains soujouk’s trademark spice and crispiness. Only the zaatar with labneh is rolled up; the rest come sliced into four and laid out like a pizza, and two will fill you for less than four bucks. Sumac is on all the tables but unnecessary. And all feature a perfectly baked base of bread: wheaty, crispy, thick, gorgeous.
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The only real letdown was the cheese-and-chile sphiha—I was expecting some Arab-American fusion but instead received a cheese sphiha sprinkled with chile flakes. It’s still delicious, however, and qualifies as the most satisfying disappointment since The Simpsons Movie.
Forn Al Hara, 512 S. Brookhurst, Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 758-3777.