Moonlight Pizza and Chicken

Photo by Tenaya HillsThere's a Lebanese pizzeria in Orange County (Al-Sanabel in Anaheim), as well as pizzerias with a Pakistani (Ali Baba's Kitchen), Persian (Ray's Pizza), Argentine (Regina's), Greek (Christakis) and even Mexican bent—La Pizza Loca bakes its namesake with carne asada! But the best local ethnic pizzeria remains Moonlight Pizza and Chicken in Fountain Valley, she of the crescent-and-hen logo, sturdy Middle Eastern lunchtime buffet and a pizza encrusted with the wondrous Armenian sausage called soujouk.

Soujouk is a dry, spicy length of beef similar to chorizo that Armenians traditionally stuff inside a pita or speckle on their rice. But on Moonlight Pizza's splendid pie, the soujouk acts as an ideal partner to the milky cheese, yeasty crust and relishy tomato sauce. This soujouk pizza is grander than mere foodstuff: it's an ambassador for that mythical melting pot, for the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation of owners Vazgen Akoyan and Karine Karpetyan. Add pineapple, and you have the best retort to the anti-immigrant crowd since the Statue of Liberty.

There's more to Moonlight than pizza, even if the restaurant's layout—big-screen television in one corner, Little League team photos and trophies toward the back, and wide booths ringing the walls—suggests the type of place only a Pee Wee Dodgers squad could appreciate. The lunchtime buffet is like chowing through a neighborhood souk. There's thick, sharp hummus sprinkled with olive oil, a moutabel eggplant dip smokier than that babaghanoush spread you choked on at your last Green Party mixer, and a fragrant, glistening mound of tabbouleh. Almonds peek out within steamed, puffy mounds of white rice, and a spicy beef soup bubbles in a pot. All of those appetizers are also available at dinner—this is when Vazgen and Karine prepare bulky gyros and charred, moist kebabs of multiple chicken, beef and lamb cuts.

If you visit an Armenian restaurant, though, it's a culinary commandment that you leave stomach space for at least a drumstick of rotisserie chicken. It's part of the lunch buffet, and you can also ask for shreds of it on a pizza, but order it separately—that way, you can guarantee that the plump, crispy hen just recently left its spit limbo and the cascading juices and scents of its still-captive sisters. Served with rectangular slices of purple pickled turnips and a small dollop of hummus, a whole bird costs eight freakin' bucks—or around the cost of a regular pizza (get the two and some other sides for only $16). An order of rotisserie chicken also comes with a thimble of fierce garlic sauce. Apply it judiciously, though: this gritty, reeking paste will sear taste buds as much as it does your nostril hairs.

Don't forget dessert—gooey baklava and a couple of steamed carrots. What, never had the latter? Oh, the sweet, earthy pleasure you've missed out on all these years.



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