A few months ago, the New York Times published its list of the 50 most remarkable restaurants in America. It came as a surprise to those of us who eat around to find a small take-out window, with limited hours, included among national highlights.
This small take-out space is Mini skewers (313-1/2 Vine Street, Glendale; 818-244-1343), open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday. This is also where, as I discovered, skewers can’t just be snagged on impulse.
A few weeks after the story appeared in the food section of the NY Times, I was walking around Glendale and heading to Vine Street, which is just off Central Avenue, to pick up a Styrofoam box or three. The chef, Armen Martirosyan, son of Mini’s founders, prepared take-out orders as fast as he could, working in a space that was more like a dressing room than a wildly popular kitchen. He was surrounded by plastic bags, waiting to be picked up.
Martirosyan told me that since the article appeared, followed by a list in a survey of the best restaurants in the Los Angeles Times, he has been inundated with orders. And that for a walk-in visit that day, the wait would be two hours – or more.
Which is amazing, considering Mini Kabob has been around for over 35 years when it first opened as an addition to the adjacent auto repair shop. It’s almost as if, after 80 years, we suddenly noticed Pink’s Hot Dogs. All the while, Mini Kabob has been hiding…in plain sight.
Twenty-five years ago, it changed owners. And after his son Armen graduated from the former Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, he signed. Not to “fantasize” the place – in fact, he kept it as venerable as possible. But what he’s done is establish a standard of quality, consistent quality, that’s admirable. He also created a culinary object of desire that had me running back to my car, my mom longing for the smoky flavor of the kebabs, wondering where to go.
Then I looked across Central Avenue – and there was land of skewers. Which might just be a new name for Glendale because it’s a city of many skewers.
Land of Kabob (416 S. Central Ave., Glendale; 818-600-0408, www.kaboblandglendale.com) is about as far from Mini’s style as one can imagine. In this case, we have a sit-down restaurant — not elegant, but still, there are tables where you sit, and waiters who bring you dishes from a menu of around fifty dishes. And while the skewers referenced in the restaurant’s name abound, they make up less than a quarter of the menu. Once you get past the various chicken, pork and beef skewers, there’s a menu that takes us on a crazy journey through Armenian cuisine, with names that may confuse dishes you may be familiar with. good.
What for example grechka? The name smells of distant place and distant flavors. But in fact, grechka turns out to be the buckwheat porridge I grew up eating called kasha, which has always been a treat in my family home — and which I swear I’ve seen since Pluto was a puppy.
Jarko is a pot roast, cooked until it is about to crumble into its constituent parts. Kufta is long pounded meat, reduced to a meatball texture. Khashlama is an Armenian lamb stew, which can be an even more defining dish than kebabs. Skewers are the equivalent of burgers. Khashlama is an Armenian-style Thanksgiving dinner.
I know that between the kebabs and the various beef and lamb dishes – heavy and substantial, and suited to Armenia’s cold weather – it feels like the vegetables are neglected in Kabob Land. But then there are nine salads, ranging from a caesar and chicken salad, through a shirazi salad and a tabbouleh salad, into the intense realm of mixed pickled vegetable salad. There’s hummus, and the caponata-like spread called eggplant, yogurt, and cucumber ikra, and both an Armenian cheese plate and a medley of olives.
There is a side dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes that looks like it came from another restaurant. But you can come back to the zone with a good cup of strong Armenian coffee, which should keep you awake until Super Bowl LVII in February.
If you’re confused by all the options, there are combo meals for 5-7, 10-12, or 15-17. They cost around $10 per person – and include lots of skewers, which is normal at Terre de Kabob. And although I would have liked to take a plate to go to Mini, no one in my family complained about the kebabs from here.
In Glendale, they certainly know their skewers.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]