The Great Zucchini

Photo by Tenaya HillsIn this wildly diverse county, where you can enjoy food from four continents within a one-strip-mall radius, there is no dish more spectacularly American than the bun kebab combo served at the Great Zucchini, a Pakistani/Mexican deli hidden within eastern Fullerton's industrial-park corridor. The bun kebab combo is the melting pot gone carhop: first comes a mayo-and-onion-laced burger with a patty that's actually a chapli kebab, a fragrant ground-beef oval studded with pomegranate seeds, lentils, cloves and H-bomb-hot jalapeño shavings. Accompanying the bun kebab are standard fries, but ketchup and ranch dressing give way to a minty, emerald-green chutney and a zesty cucumber-and-pepper raita (yogurt) that could eradicate the common cold forever. You can buy the bun kebab combo with a frothy mango lassi shake, but it's better to order a cola—in this case, the cola of choice is Pakola, Pakistan's creamy national soda that is as green as the country's flag and its most intoxicating export since Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

The bun kebab combo is but one of the highlights of the Great Zucchini, whose name sounds more appropriate for a Little Italy diner than for one of the county's three Pakistani eateries. The menu board divides into two parts, with the main panel devoted to excellent cold-cut and hot subs, while a second section hawks Mexican food fine enough to pass the Mexican-mother taste test. Make no mistake, though: you're here for the meat-centric, greasy, impossibly fiery dishes of Pakistan, the soul food of Asia.

It's a small list, and you have to ask for a special menu to see it, but the Great Zucchini's preparation of Pakistani standbys attracts subcontinent expats from North County and beyond. Primary among these entrées is the chicken kahari, an oily, gritty, ginger-spiked curry studded with anise seeds that freshen your breath for days but will unleash a Kashmiri conflict on your stomach. Also excellent are juicy minced-beef seekh kebabs, sweet-potato samosas and a tikka chicken that's as close to the Garden of Allah as terrestrially possible. And this being a deli, the Great Zucchini slaps together its own hybrids like the kebab roll, a seekh kebab wrapped within a buttery paratha whole-wheat bread; the thing is more closely related to the burrito than anything Hindustani.

Food is not the Great Zucchini's sole appealing feature. Its main dining room turns into an impromptu movie theater Friday and Saturday nights, as desis enjoy Bollywood flicks and ululate along with the karaoke machine. Visit during the weekdays, and the jovial owner will click on the television and offer a quick summary of whatever film might be on. “This film is very popular right now—it deals with four brothers who don't like one another,” he recently remarked to a group of rowdy Latinos as Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan launched into a sonorous soliloquy onscreen. But the owner quickly went back to work—a Bengali family was asking for some enchiladas.

—Gustavo Arellano



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