The proliferating sizzle of grilled doner kebabs and scent of baked borek are heady signs of the growing number of Turkish restaurants in Southern California.
In Orange County, Doner G in Anaheim is expanding into Irvine. Another branch of Canoga Park's Doner King recently popped up on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. Also relatively new, two Turkish bakery-cafes -- Ikram (Fountain Valley) and Gulluoglu (Garden Grove) -- offer a fantastic array of savory pastries and breads. Meanwhile, 2-year-old New Anatolia Cafe in Westwood has been working on its bakery next door for more than a year. "It’s almost ready," the owner says.
Here's a guide to some of the best places right now for doner kebab, imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant), mezze, baked manti (beef dumplings) and more:
The flavor of Adana, imported
Café IstanbulCafé Istanbul may be named for Turkey’s largest city but this Beverly Hills newcomer has roots in the country's southeast near Adana, famous for the spicy bite of its kebabs. Ayean Arslan managed restaurants there. And when she and her co-owner husband, Sam, immigrated to be close to their college-age son, they transformed a former Jacopo’s pizzeria into a sleek red-walled dream of a room offering sophisticated mezze — and, of course, Adana kebabs.
Must try: crisp cheese-filled cigar boreks that shatter like glass; imam bayildi, halved roasted eggplant stuffed with nearly caramelized onions, tomato and garlic; beyti kebab, of seasoned ground chicken or beef rolled in lavash, topped with homemade tomato sauce and drizzled with tart creamy yogurt.
326 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 553-4545, CafeIstanbul90212.com.
Doner kebab a la Hamburg
Doner KingThis dedicated doner takeaway spot comes to us via Hamburg, Germany, where owner Ali Nowbahari ran a bevy of similar quick-serve shops for 18 years. Although his places are streamlined and efficient, you can expect large servings. Doner kebabs begin with those hefty cones of hand-layered beef or chicken that self-baste as they’re licked by the blazing heat of vertical grills behind the counters. The crisp-edged yet moist slivered meat they yield will be rolled in pita with a handful of greens, chopped tomato and a moistening of tart yogurty tzatziki to make a taste and texture sensation. Besides the standard doner, Doner King makes a unique doner version wrapped in the pizza-like flatbread, lamajune.
Must try: The beef or chicken doner, of course, but also ispanakli borek, a thick spinach pie crammed with feta; urfa kebab of spiced ground beef molded around a skewer with grilled vegetables served on a plate.
22349 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 312-9477; 19737 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 704-1100.
L.A.'s best lamb kebabs served overlooking an imaginary Bosporus
More than a dozen years ago, Sofra started its West L.A. life in a shopping mall food court. "But it was not the right place for such food," says jovial owner Ray Gunes of his precisely marinated grills and beautifully presented mezzes, which arrive on dramatic paisley-shaped platters. "They closed the place at 8 p.m." (Sofra now stays open until midnight and 1 a.m. on weekends.) From a funky stretch of Venice Boulevard, you enter the restaurant into a room with walls completely covered in eye-popping murals: scenes of the Bosporus’ shores and a hookah-smoking camel. But you’ll soon focus on the sizzling skewered lamb or chicken or the meats thwacked from the swirling vertical grills. Sprinkle on the housemade hot sauce, a puree of fresh vegetables punctuated with chile.
Must try: Kebabs of young lamb; Sofra kebab combination (four kinds) over salad dressed with feta dressing and grapes; chicken Adena kebab; kisir salad of bulgur with diced tomato and cucumber in tomato vinaigrette.
10821 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 838-8833, SofraKababExpress.com.
Turkish food from an Armenian family