Genie Den Shawarmas While It Can

There is a two-block section of Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove that has been a no-man's land for years, a place that serves as a buffer between the city's residential neighborhoods and its tourist zone. And ground zero is a shopping plaza that has hosted all sorts of wonderful restaurants over the years: Peruvian rotisserie chicken houses, Salvadoran eateries, Oaxacan restaurants, Ethiopian dives, even a Viet-Mex spot. It's been a fine metaphor for the city's dizzying diversity—and it'll probably be demolished in the next couple of years, an unfortunate metaphor for Garden Grove's historical tendency to tear itself down.

See, it's next door to the forthcomimg Great Wolf Lodge, a gargantuan indoor water park designed to lure out-of-staters who can't afford Disneyland anymore. Opening next year, it will probably force that multicultural shopping plaza to shut down, unable to keep up with the times. Which is a damn shame because its latest buzz restaurant, Genie Den, is a gem. Think of it as a place for Lebanese hipsters, where ululating Arabic tunes are on the soundtrack while folks watch the Angels game on the flat-screen. In a rarity for Middle Eastern restaurants in the area, it serves beer—Almaza, a fine Lebanese pilsner. And zaatar garlic fries? Fragrant, spicy, spectacular.

The menu is straightforward—wraps, bowls and plates, with nothing else other than falafel and chicken and steak shawarma for entrées, plus the usual hummus and baba ghanoush one-two for appetizers. But damn if this simple setup doesn't work. The falafels are springy, moist; the chicken and steak shawarmas are bathed in a white sauce à la New York's Halal Guys (just opened in Costa Mesa). The basmati rice is buttery and goes well with the house shatta sauce (olive oil-based salsa). Even something as simple as the salad that comes with all plates—just red onions, feta, greens and a dressing—offers more zip to your day than most of the meals you'll eat all year.

Genie Den isn't lacking for customers, drawing everyone from Vietnamese white-collar professionals to working-class Mexicans looking to feed their construction cabrones. But visit now, before lame progress forces it to close to make way for a Shoney's or some shit. . . .

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