“Can I start with the pilaki?” I asked the cashier at Anatolian Fresh Mediterranean Grill. The picture of the appetizer on a flat-screen TV at the register promised a pinto bean cassoulet: the beans, onions, carrots and tomatoes simmered, then tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. I've had it on many occasions, and you know a Turkish restaurant means business whenever it offers the dish.
“I'm sorry,” the woman replied, apologetically. “We're out of it. In fact, we don't make it anymore.”
“Why not?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer. We were high up in Anaheim Hills, after all, in a shopping plaza that hadn't received a makeover since the 1970s. Most of the lunchtime crowd was swarming the Subway next door; the only other visitor was a gabacha MILF with tow-headed kids.
“No one ever ordered it,” the cashier said sadly, explaining pilaki takes days to make and that beans go bad fast. I almost suggested preserving them with lard, as Mexicans do with frijoles, but quickly reminded myself Anatolian is halal-only and thus kept the haram response to myself.
It's a shame Anatolian can't get enough of an adventurous crowd to keep the pilaki on the menu because it excels everywhere else. The doners here are equal parts char and succulence; the iskender kebab (Anglicized as Alexander) swims in butter-spiked yogurt and tomato sauce—still my favorite Turkish dish. And then there's the adana kebab, so juicy and red and spicy it reminded me of al pastor. You can have any of the plates as a wrap—sturdy, massive, delicious.
Yet the best thing at Anatolian is also the least traditional: feta egg rolls. The chef (a young guy, judging by the selfie on his restaurant's website) wraps filo dough around feta cheese, then fries it to a crispy, golden brown. The end results defy science: The outside is as crispy and crumbly as a jalapeño popper, yet the feta cheese inside remains intact. Dunk it in the house yogurt sauce, dunk it again, ignore the chintzy Turkish pop, and hope more customers come to this lonely spot—and bring enough business so that Anaheim Hills can finally love pilaki.
Anatolian Fresh Mediterranean Grill, 466 S. Anaheim Hills Rd., Anaheim, (714) 685-0353; www.anatoliangrill.com.