Mid East Tacos
A popular pop-up from one of L.A.’s most notable Middle Eastern chef-restaurateurs returns this week as a permanent restaurant in Silver Lake — with new items and ambition for even more to come. But Mid East Tacos started as an off-menu burrito in Glendale.
Armen Martirosyan began toying with a lavash-wrapped burrito in 2016 at Mini Kabob, his family’s Armenian restaurant and L.A. Times 101 List awardee. Back then he filled his Ali Baba burrito with kebabs, tabbouleh, potatoes and other items from the restaurant. As it picked up steam among regulars and local press, he began incubating a new concept for tacos and burritos that would combine Armenian and Mexican flavors: kebab meats marinated for 24 to 48 hours, falafel tacos made using his grandmother’s falafel recipe, and salsas made daily — such as a pico de gallo variant essentially made from Mini Kabob’s freshly grilled vegetables, or an arbol-chile-infused toum.
“For me, it was very important to make sure that we represented Mexican culture very well, and Armenian Middle Eastern culture very well,” said Martirosyan, who looked to some of his culinary idols, including Guerrilla Tacos founder Wes Avila, for guidance.
Longtime Mini Kabob customer Aram Kavoukjian gradually became friends with Martirosyan, ordering food frequently while helping at his own family business only a block and a half away. The duo partnered to bring the culture-blending burrito and additional items to the masses, launching Mid East Tacos as a weekly stall at Smorgasburg Los Angeles in 2017 with kebab steak, chicken and falafel packed into lavash burritos or tacos made with freshly pressed corn tortillas. They expanded to catering events and a parking lot residency in Highland Park — until the pandemic and a theft of roughly $20,000 of their equipment shut down the operation. But what could have spelled the end of Mid East Tacos only emboldened the founders.
“We were like, ‘You know what, it's a sign, we're not giving up — we need a location,’” said Kavoukjian, who helps head operations. “We don't give up at all. We've worked with our parents, and our parents came to this country with absolutely nothing in their pockets. We've seen them work every single day for 30-plus years, and there's obviously been a lot of hiccups along the way. That never stopped them from doing it, so why would it stop us?”
The pair say that transitioning from Mid East Tacos’ pop-up format to bricks-and-mortar required a lot of pivoting.
They toured and signed a lease on the 500-square-foot former Mh Zh restaurant space on a corner in Silver Lake, and determined they’d keep their business casual with takeout format (though a few sidewalk tables are available for dine-in eaters). New permitting, cleaning and retrofitting of the space took years, while the menu also saw changes in that time: Some items that worked well at Smorgasburg wouldn’t hold up as well in an era of now-ubiquitous delivery apps. They ditched the lavash burrito wrappings for large flour tortillas by Mejorado (a company born of Burritos La Palma), and also switched to the brand for their flour and corn tortilla tacos. They’ve added Mini Kabob’s fan-favorite cottage fries dusted with Aleppo pepper, as well as new items such as quesadillas, chips and guacamole, and shrimp as a filling option.
A new teal mural splashed with colorful, intricate symbols — many of which were inspired by khachkar, or traditional Armenian tombstones — is now in place and reminiscent of patterns in Aztec symbology, an intentional blending of the cultures to mirror the cuisine inside.
Breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos, along with earlier service hours, are planned for later in 2024, and Martirosyan and Kavoukjian are already set on scaling the business. They envision five to 10 Mid East Tacos locations, perhaps some international outposts, and the possibility of retail of their house-made sauces. For now, Mid East Tacos is open daily in Silver Lake from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
3536 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 800-8226, mideasttacos.com
The long-anticipated restaurant from Bernhard Mairinger (formerly of BierBeisl and the Patina Group) is now open in Culver City’s Helms Bakery District with a mix of global cuisines, an Austrian throughline underpinning it all. There’s veal wiener schnitzel with lingonberry and yuzu chutney; chicken liver profiteroles with dark chocolate and Riesling; airline chicken with asparagus aglio e olio and a lemon-and-tarragon jus; raclette flatbread; hamachi with green apple, mustard and pickled wasabi; paprikash-inspired steak tartare; and, for dessert, options such as apple strudel cigars. The cheeky menu even offers an option to send ketchup to the neighboring — and famously anti-ketchup — Father’s Office, listed at market price, while the also-playful cocktails include riffs on glühwein and espresso martinis. Extended hours for brunch and lunch service are planned. For now, Lustig is open Tuesday to Thursday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.
3273 Helms Ave., Culver City, (424) 501-2005, lustig-la.com
A new, near-hidden cocktail bar and lounge is open in Hollywood. To find Mars, follow a black-and-white checkered hallway through an alcove in Hollywood’s historic Citizen News building and around the corner. Patio seating leads the way to a bar serving classic-leaning cocktails with a program conceptualized by Steve LaFountain (Horses): Dirty martinis feature a splash of seasoned olive oil, spritzes utilize botanical limoncello, Manhattans involve Cynar and saline, and the Apollo, a riff on the banana daiquiri, gets topped with banana foam. Mars is the latest project from Pagani Hospitality’s Giancarlo Pagani (formerly of SBE Group and Ten Five Hospitality) and also offers bottle service, an indoor lounge with live entertainment, and a membership program that includes liquor lockers, priority booking and members-only events. Mars is open Thursday to Saturday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
1545 Wilcox Ave., Los Angeles, marshollywood.com
Wood-fired Italian restaurant Prima Donna recently slid into the former Etta space in Culver City, bringing chef Michael Santoro’s brand of pizza, house-made pasta, brunch and all-day fare to the Shay Hotel. The former Beverly Hills Hotel chef — now the chief culinary officer of Mosaic Hospitality Group, also behind Prima Donna — serves dry-aged orata with tomato vinaigrette; black truffle cavatelli with grilled mushroom; rack of lamb with Sardinian sauces; and fried olives filled with Calabrian sausage stuffing. For breakfast and brunch, opt for lemon ricotta pancakes; mortadella-and-fried-egg sandwiches, smoked salmon pizzas and more. Cocktails reimagine Italian and broader global classics, such as spritzes, negronis and palomas, while the ample wine list sources primarily from Italy and California. Prima Donna is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m.
8801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (209) 364-7543, whataprimadonna.com
The Arroyo Club
This month the owners of Highland Park neighborhood restaurant Birdie flipped the space to become a moody cocktail lounge lush with plants. Alejandro Santana, formerly of Birdie, is heading the Arroyo Club’s beverage program with cocktails, nonalcoholic options, wine and beer; cocktails include rice-washed tequila with cinnamon, cold brew, amaro and chocolate; ginger-infused vodka with blood orange, Campari, grapefruit and bitters; and mezcal with tomatillo, Cointreau, cilantro and lime. A burger window called the Hotline — lit up by red neon — serves single and double smashburgers also available with Impossible patties, as well as grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and tater tots. The Arroyo Club is open Wednesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight.
5631 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, thearroyoclub.com
A restaurant from the team behind fried-chicken shop Chimmelier and Hanchic just debuted in Koreatown, drawing crowds for modern Korean shareable plates meant to pair with a menu of soju, beer, locally made makgeolli, wine and more. Jilli, which translates to "the way, the truth,” is now open in the former Kinn space, which closed in late 2023 and was co-owned by the same restaurant group. In the location’s new iteration owners Dustin Dong Kyuk Lee, Jeff Jun and Kevin Son are serving familiar dishes such as Hanchic-like shrimp toast or the Chimmelier chicken wings, plus new items such as rigatoni in kimchi vodka sauce, perilla-and-kimchi bruschetta toast with burrata, baby back rib twigim and a risotto-like take on chicken nurungji. In the future the team hopes to open for daytime service with a Chimmelier menu. Jilli is open Wednesday to Sunday from 6 to 11 p.m.
3905 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, 213-291-0888, instagram.com/jilli.la
There’s a new brewery in Long Beach pouring a range of drafts, bottles, growlers and cans alongside tri-tip mac and cheese, green apple aguachile, salmon fish and chips, coconut French toast and beer-braised pot roast sandwiches. ISM Brewery is helmed by owner and master brewer Ian McCall, formerly of Huntington Beach’s Riip Beer Co. and Long Beach’s Beachwood. He’s brewing nearly 20 beers on site, including IPAs, blonde ales, pilsners, stouts, Mexican lagers and red ales, while executive chef Alfonso “Fonzzy” De Zuñiga leads the kitchen. Beers and ciders from other California makers — such as San Diego’s Pure Project Brewing and Los Olivos’s Dreamcôte Wine Co. — are available, as are events such as trivia nights and live performances. ISM Brewery is open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
210 E. 3rd St., Unit A, Long Beach, (562) 436-0497, ism.beer
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.