The success of Irvine's Wholesome Choice sparked a trend of vaguely Middle Eastern supermarkets opening across OC in the past couple of years that shows no sign of stopping. Almost all are carbon copies of the original: aisles of products and produce from across the world, a food court with vendors hawking the food of their native lands, a communal eating area, and more styles of tea than there are drunks on Main Street in HB come Saturday night.
One of the newest markets is also one of the emptiest: Pars Supermarket in Lake Forest. It opened this spring in one of the most multiethnic shopping plazas in the county, a place that counts as tenants a Thai restaurant, a Peruvian dive, a pho palace, a South American nightclub and—that's still around?—a Boot Barn. Unfortunately, the store is right next to the freeway, in a place that only Lake Foresters would know how to reach. On my last visit, workers at the food stands were helping the produce guys because there was no business whatsoever—and this was during the lunch rush. It's a shame because Pars outdoes its competitors and even the mighty Wholesome Choice with the breadth of its food court and quality of the meals. It hosts at least seven eateries, each with its own glossy menus and specialties. ManDeli specializes in Persian counter food, from cutlets to sandwiches (containing everything from silky roasted beef tongue to olivieh) to buckets of Persian spreads (mast-o-musir, kashk-e-bademjan, even laboo, the best beets you'll ever eat). Pitabari Bread bakes not only the expected pitas, naan and sangak, but also such rarer breads as taftoon, flatbreads spiked with dill or saffron. KebobSaray is your place for Persian rice pilafs and kebabs. And the best stand of them all is Patatez, a Turkish spot that'll sell you Turkish-inspired pizzas, baked potatoes or an iskender kebab (the country's famous meal of chopped-up pita bread topped with butter, beef, tomato sauce and sour cream) plate so massive I couldn't finish it after stabbing at it over two days—and I can eat La Casa Garcia's 5-pound burrito in one sitting.
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But best of all? When you finally go to sit down, bottles of Tapatío wait. Though Pars is geared toward Middle Eastern consumers, the owners also understand that we are all bound in this region by food, that salsa is the lingua franca of us all. May Pars find much success in its secluded location—and may I finally finish that iskender kebab by tomorrow. Man, it is epic. . . .