Ten Great Middle Eastern Restaurants in Orange County

Categories: Arabic Aliments
Kareem's
Over the weekend, I attended an art reception where the featured snacks were hummus and falafels. I still remember the days where the two (with tabbouli, natch) were staples of any left-of-center gathering, placed by conscious hosts who were attuned to the needs of vegetarians and wanted to seem cool by being ethnic.

Thank god Arabs, Persians, Turks, Armenians, and all the disparate groups of the Middle East came to save us fro that blight. We're haven't even reached a Middle Eastern cuisine renaissance, yet: consider this the time when Florence was just realizing that art and literature was beautiful--in other words, we're just at the point where restaurateurs are realizing they can sell regional food, and earn acclaim. Following, then, are 10 great Middle Eastern restaurants--falafel- and hummus-heavy, sure, but also so much more. Enjoy!

And just one note: if there's a preponderance of Anaheim restaurants on this list, it's because Anaheim has Little Arabia--DUH!

10. Sahara Falafel
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Photo by the Elmo Monster

Anyone who knows anything about Middle Eastern food in Orange County is that you don't get the falafels at Sahara Falafel but rather the shawerma, perhaps the best in the county. Sahara also has the fortune of being at the nexus of Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave, and has featured prominently in many news accounts covering the many protests and rallies held in the area in the past two years of Arab springs and intifadas.

590 S. Brookhurst St. Anaheim, (714) 491-0400; www.saharafalafel.com

9. Midan Al Tahrir


This place has only been open a couple of months but is already creating buzz with a proudly provincial men that ranges from Egyptian street food to the cuisine of the Khaleeji, the countries on the Persian Gulf. Try the koushari, the Egyptian equivalent of Rice-a-Roni: a rice pilaf of lentils and chickpeas topped with macaroni, spaghetti and enough fried onions to make a hamburger stand proud.

1324 S. Magnolia Ave. Anaheim, (714) 844-2515

8. Al Wadee
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Al Wadee's menu is fiendishly simple: appetizers, combo plates, sandwiches and a list of manakeesh, the topping-packed flatbread of the Levant. Baskets of pita come with every order, each one so fresh flour falls off it like snow flurries, with tiny black spots denoting where char marks were just beginning to emerge. Order a side of their yogurt drenched in olive oil, and that's enough meal for a month.

311 S. Brookhurst St. Anaheim, (714) 956-2997; www.alwadee.net

7. Cafe Matinee
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Lebanese restaurants are perhaps the most common Middle Eastern food we have, and this one (located in, of all places, Lake Forest), might be the best. None of the entrées and appetizers available is a surprise so much as embellished. Hummus, for instance, is properly garlicky and oily, but you can also have it topped with awarma, ground lamb sautéed to a sweet, cardamom-y zenith.

23532 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 588-7511; www.lebanesecafe.net

6. Doner G
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Orange County continues to transform into a center of Turkish cultural life in the United States, and restaurants are responding accordingly, none more so than this Anaheim standard. Best dish is the iskender kabob: Imagine petal-thin, luscious meats now cooked in a savory tomato sauce more Italian than Anatolian, but nevertheless delicious. Top it with melted butter to add more sweetness. End with cooling yogurt on the side. Simple, filling, nuanced, good--eat!

2139 E. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 956-0123; www.donerg.com.
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6 comments
Reza Shaeri
Reza Shaeri

Gustavo, OC has one of the largest Iranian-American communities in the whole country, with at least a dozen Persian restaurants.  Yet, the only place that makes your top ten list is a super market food court.  You know they also have a Mexican station, but some how I can't imagine you touting them as the best just based on huge portions and low prices.  Wholesome is fine for what it is, but please give some love to real restaurants serving fresh, made to order food.  And when it comes to kabob, what really makes a Persian restaurant standout, Wholesome cant even begin to compete with fine restaurants like Darya in Orange, Hatam in Mission Viejo, or even lesser places.  And then there are amazing bakeries like Assal in Irvine.  I say this as a long time fan and avid reader of your stuff, but your obsession with the second rate offerings at Wholesome (sangak aside) shows the very limited knowledge of Persian cuisine among the Weekly crew.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Gracias for your points. Hatam is great, and sholeh zard is probably the greatest dessert in the world after halo-halo. But I still maintain Wholesome offers more variety of Persian food than nearly any other Persian restaurant, let alone the quality. As for Darya: have never been a fan, alas...and also, I still maintain that the restaurants I listed are still better than any other Persian restaurants in OC.

Ed Carrasco
Ed Carrasco

Yes! Glad to hear Al-Amir made it to the list!

909Jeff
909Jeff

If you're in the LAX area the Hummus Factory is pretty good but watch the Tsatsiki its like eating creamed garlic. 

elenafaust
elenafaust

I just found a place called Printapons where I can get my fav. restaurant coupon for 90% off!! all you have to do is just print and take it.

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