Soltani Restaurant Sells Persian Food for Paisas

It's all sorts of awesome that Soltani Restaurant just opened in SanTana, and not just for the novelty of a Persian eatery in the middle of a barrio. Or, rather, that's part of it. I've already seen Mexican customers speak in Spanish to the Persian owners, and Persian customers speak Farsi to the Mexican cook. I've seen fake-blond cholas try to pay with food stamps, and working-class Joes from the many auto shops surrounding Soltani scarfing down bowls of gheimeh, washing it down with doogh. And because of the trilingual menu, I now know that zereshk polo is called arroz con arándano (cranberry rice) and mast-o-musir is yogur persa (Persian yogurt).

Don't dismiss this tiny restaurant as a novelty, though, for here is great Persian food that would play in Irvine or Mission Viejo. One must admire the courage of the owners for opening Soltani here and not watering down the cuisine at all. Appetizers include bowls of torshi and tahdig so crunchy they make peanut brittle seem as hard as cardboard. The ghormeh sabzi is puckering thanks to the use of dried limes; the aforementioned zereshk polo comes with a chicken leg and thigh, their broth presented on the side so you can baptize the rice with it. It doesn't matter if you're Persian or a paisa: The owners will explain all the dishes and guide you to the best choices. Try to order the maast chekideh—plain yogurt—and one of the owners (both are middle-aged, mustachioed and resemble mi tío Gabriel) will shake his head. “This is boring,” he'll tell you. “Doesn't sell. Go for the mast-o-musir or mast-o-khiar—much better!”

Soltani's menu is small, and the owners are hedging their beats by having two coolers full of sodas, the better to get the thirsty Mexicans walking down the street. But the room is already drawing a crowd, almost exclusively Latino. Because when it gets down to it, Mexicans are the ideal audience for Persian food. Big pieces of meat served over rice, with fava beans and pomegranate juice to wash it down? That's a Sunday afternoon. Lavash? Just a thicker tortilla. And a $6 lunch special with grilled vegetables? Chingao!

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