Glendale: Lunch at Raffi’s Place
I remember right before I left for Armenia I looked up the cuisine. However, friends said, “you like kabobs, right? You’ll be fine.” Once I was there, I quickly figured out Armenian food is not like Persian food. Yes, they like grilled meats that they call barbecue but I never saw shish kabobs. At least, not the places I went to.
So when I got back to Los Angeles, I went looking for true Armenian food. Everyone recommended Raffi’s Place in Glendale which I had heard about for years but never went. I had envisioned it to be some sort of tiny kabob shop. Not so, it’s actually really nice with a pretty patio and is considered “fine dining” of kabob shops.
Still, it’s not the Armenian food that I was looking for. Although Armenian owned, the menu reads like a typical Persian spot with the exception of the ikra, an eggplant dip which is Russian. And there are Armenians from Russia… the diaspora has spread far and wide. To get a good understanding of Armenian-Russian, Armenian-Lebanese, Armenian-Persian, Armenian-Greek, etc food in LA, I recommend this article from 2011.
Basically, the food we have in LA is reflection of the places the diaspora has traveled to (and fled from).
Which is not to say the food is not delicious. The aforementioned ikra is wonderful. Ikra is a Russian answer to caviar. It’s also known as the poor man’s caviar.
For years, I always viewed the dish of random onion wedges that came with the pita (which if thin and sheet like is actually lavash) as a bit odd. No one ever told us how to eat the raw onions. And some restaurants have stopped serving the onions to non-Persians. I remember going to a Persian restaurant once with a Persian friend and she complained only the “old men” were given the onions but they didn’t give them to her because the restaurants didn’t think she’d eat them.
Raffi’s being Armenian owned also included basil with their dish of onions wedges, chopped onions and parsley and radishes. I made myself little open-faced small bites with lavash, ikra, radishes I cut up myself and basil. It was so yummy.
I ordered the soltani (beef barg and koobideh) and my friend had the chicken barg. Both plates were enormous with a ton of rice. Each dish also comes with a giant grilled Fresno chile as well as the roasted tomato. I have thought about asking for the onions to be grilled but now I just do what the Persians do- eat it raw.
You can ask for specialty rice for $3 more but I like the simple basmati. I just sprinkle on plenty of sumac. The flavors of the grilled meats and plain rice is all I need (at the moment).
I’m still hoping to find an Armenian-Armenian spot. I was talking to to a rideshare driver about it and he said even if I found such a place, the meat and cooking techniques would be different. As Armenians like lamb and they use lamb fat (from the tail) on everything. And American sheep apparently don’t have such tail fat. In any case, he started talking about gyros and pizza so the search continues.
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