Five and a half years ago, Gustavo predicted the end of Papa Hassan's Cafe, nestled in between the buildings of the ever-expanding Chapman University, on Glassell north of the Orange Circle.
That prediction, fortunately, did not come to pass. Papa Hassan's lives on under its green awning on the Chapman campus. Out of curiosity, we headed over to see if it was still good college chow.
Meze (spelled "mazza" on the menu--ah, transliteration!) are excellent and a must-order. Of especial note was the babaghannoush, which would stand up beside the best of Brookhurst with its deep smoky flavor and soft, buttery curds. Also good were the arayis, the baked pocket pita stuffed with seasoned lamb and onions; the lebneh, blocks of creamy cheese like a less-salty feta; and the tabbouleh, which had none of the bitterness so prevalent in most parsley-based salads.
Another excellent dish is kibbeh bi siniya, a pie made of seasoned lamb under a crispy crust of bulghur wheat, served with yoghurt sauce mixed with chopped, salted cucumbers. The bulgur was crunchy on top and split into satisfying shards when struck, like meat brûlée. The lamb filling was moist and tender, and the yoghurt sauce still tasted like cucumbers, with a pleasant garlic afterburn. A second sauce, a ketchuppy orange sauce, was unnecessary; leave it aside.
Not everything worked as well: the falafel were dry and mealy, and the "spicy chicken" was a chicken breast grilled with a sprinkling of red pepper powder, then wrapped in a pita. Not bad-tasting, but not the height of cooking either.
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Most dinners come with your choice of soup or salad. Choose the soup, whether lentil or the daily special (written up on the board near the entrance); the salad is nothing to write home about. The black-eyed peas, chard and beef soup that was the special was very satisfying: That, babaghannoush and pita would have been a perfect meal.
Prices are not terribly high: most main dishes are in the $9-$15 range. The restaurant itself is half patio, with plants and outdoor decorations under a tent, and half burger shack, with the obligatory faded prints of the glories of Lebanese architecture on the walls. Service is extremely friendly, and the waitstaff don't stand on ceremony when helping tables (the "you're not my table" problem is not at all in evidence here). They clearly know their food and they have developed a following of regulars, whose names are written up near the cash register with favorite dishes.
There are better Lebanese places in Anaheim's Little Gaza, but you can't really have a nice post-dinner stroll after eating at any of them. Papa Hassan's is a nice neighborhood restaurant and the kids at Chapman U. are lucky to have it. It's still a recommended destination if you're in the area.
Papa Hassan's Cafe, 421 N. Glassell, Orange; (714) 633-3903.