Knafeh Cafe's 99 Ways of Sweet
When you bite into the soft knafeh at Knafeh Cafe in Anaheim, you're going to see stars, unicorns and rainbows in your eyes, and you'll probably start talking to the wall, as well. This is the sweetest thing in Orange County right now, but it's not some overwrought sugar rush; it's as richly multilayered as the Hadiths. A dusting of pistachios, a spread of red sweetness, a cascade of orange blossom and a crisped top of semolina dough covers a slightly melted chunk of Nabulsi cheese, made from sheep's milk, the slightest bit salty and turning to the consistency of custard when melted. For five bucks, you'll get a chunk as large as a plate, as filling as a burrito, and you'll feel the excitement that is modern-day Orange County.
Knafeh Cafe has been the go-to spot in Little Arabia since opening earlier this year, with Middle Easterners of all ethnicities and religions flocking to the increasingly pretty strip mall that is home to it and the fabulous Iraqi restaurant Al Tannour. The knafeh is what largely draws people in, made fresh every morning and displayed on a tray that empties by midmorning, gets refilled, and then gets emptied again. But the dive isn't just the sum of its namesake; it's the best Middle Eastern bakery in the county, not only offering the expected (you'll find more styles of baklava here than you even knew existed) or even the somewhat known (the maamouls, sugar cookies stuffed with a spread of—take your pick—walnuts, dates or pistachios), but also multiple specials that skip across the Levantine, from Jordan to Syria, Lebanon to Palestine, where family members own a bakery legendary for its own knafeh. What to get? Everything—and go every day, as the bakers confect said specials according to what they feel like making.
But the knafeh will be there for sure, in both soft and hard (dough crisped even more) versions, each stupendous. As it stands, the place only sells desserts and hot drinks—Knafeh's dining room, while well-kept, is really just tables, a soda case that keeps to-go puddings, a display case in which all the sweets sit, and that perpetually emptying knafeh platter. The owners also have plans to start offering falafel sandwiches—"because we have the best falafel recipe around," the nice lady in the hijab told me last time I visited. "But we have to perfect the knafeh first." You mean the knafeh isn't at its best yet? That's like saying Mike Trout has some work to do.
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