“Wow, this was a great meal!” exclaimed a middle-aged white man one recent weekday afternoon at Little Arabia Lebanese Bakery & Cuisine in Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. He was the only gabacho in the restaurant at the time. Around him, Middle Eastern men in beards ate; behind the counter, a woman in a hijab kept calling out to the cook, a guy named Jose, to check on the bread. Everyday USA in the biggest Middle Eastern enclave in the United States outside Detroit.
This place, though a couple of months old, is already offering a fine balancing act between pleasing its Arab customers and drawing in the rest of us. So the sphihas, the Levantine take on a personal pizza, get rebranded as “bakery pies.” But there's no watering down on the ingredients; the zaatar is peppery, the soujouk perfectly charred. The lahmbaajeen choice—ground beef sweetened with cinnamon and sumac—is the best around. The bread is thick, doughy, large enough to warrant a one-slice leftover, and ridiculously affordable—with the most expensive one topping out at $5, it makes a bánh mì seem as much a rip-off as caviar.
The restaurant is best when it sticks to the bread. The combo plates are fine enough, as are the spreads. But the in-house bakers bring it, whether in the sphihas or in the pitas used in the fat, juicy sandwiches. I especially like the sambouseks, essentially Lebanese empanadas—slightly charred, delicately knotted, perfect (make sure to ask for hot sauce, the better to dip them in). And the eatery is still in the process of having a full-scale dessert counter—may I be so bold as to suggest maamouls?
Little Arabia really comes alive at night, when the next-door Hidden Cafe hookah lounge opens. Swing by. See what two decades of refugees and immigrants have wrought to what was once a drab, boring shopping plaza. Little Arabia, the restaurant and neighborhood, is vibrant, delicious, welcoming and wonderful. And if a middle-aged white man who resembled a prototypical Donald Trump supporter can love this place, so can you.