A guide to Tehrangeles, the pocket of Iranian culture in Los Angeles
The crackling pops of saffron colored rice frying in the bottom of an old pot was the din of dinner in my house growing up. The intense aroma of an herbal stew called ghormeh sabzi wafted through the rooms as it simmered for hours. These are some of the most evocative memories of my childhood. Like most Iranians born in the United States, it is likely that I will not be walking the streets of Tehran in the near future and see the crowded Grand Bazaar where my parents used to buy roasted pistachios, or stroll along the Darband River where local teenagers hang out. But the intense flavors of Persian cuisine are forever anchored in me – my connection to my Iranian roots has been cultivated through the food and the close-knit community of my hometown of Los Angeles.
Iran is a country with a complicated history and a people who have been largely misunderstood and embroiled in geopolitical turmoil. It is estimated that nearly 2 million immigrants left Iran in exile during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in hopes of a better future. More than 500,000 of them have taken refuge in Los Angeles, where they are now part of the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran. “My family and probably a lot of families fleeing their country think they are going to go back,” says Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American. comedian and actor in Los Angeles. The reality is that most of the Iranians who left during this time would never return to their country of origin.
Many Iranian families settled in Southern California in the 1970s, although large communities also exist in new York, Washington and Texas. “I think it’s so funny how culturally similar we are, even though there are so many of us scattered around the world,” says Jasmin Larian Hekmat, founder and CEO of the fashion brand. Gaia worship.
Since the first Persian business opened in Los Angeles in the early 1970s at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue, the neighborhood has become a hotbed for succulent skewers and expensive ruby red saffron threads in specialty markets. , which earned Westwood the nickname Tehrangeles. In 2010, the city of Los Angeles officially recognized the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue as Persian Square.
To truly understand the essence of our culture, you have to sit down for a meal. “For us, it’s all about food,” explains Larian Hekmat. This local guide to the Iranian neighborhoods of Los Angeles will give you a little taste of the intimate community around them, through, of course, what many consider to be the best Persian food scene in the country.
Where to eat
On a drab strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, Daria is a simple restaurant serving what many locals claim to be the juiciest kebabs. Order the naderi soltani, which is a combination of koobideh (ground beef) and barg (filet mignon) skewers, or go lighter with the salmon skewer. Whatever your order, the restaurant “transports you to Tehran,” says Sam Nazarian, founder and CEO of the catering platform. C3. He also likes tahdig, the burnt rice dish from my childhood.
For flatbread fresh out of the tanoor (clay oven) and refined stews on a butter basmati, head to Persian Kitchen Flame on Westwood Boulevard. And remember, no meal is complete without a piping hot Persian tea to wash it all away. Nestled in a small courtyard on the corner of Westwood and Wilkins, Attari sandwich shop is best known for its thick ash reshteh soup made with barley and beans. Specialty sandwiches like the aromatic kotlet or kuku sabzi, similar to a frittata but made with fresh herbs, are also popular here. If you are feeling adventurous, the beef tongue and maghz (brain) sandwich are a delicacy.
Toranj is a newcomer to Westwood, just north of Wilshire Boulevard, owned by a sibling duo, and serves tender chicken skewers and a host of hot and cold entrees like roasted eggplant dip, cucumber yogurt and a shirazi salad which could be a complete meal on its own. Zeytoon parvardeh, from northern Iran, is a tangy accompaniment to marinated olives bathed in thick pomegranate molasses. You won’t find it in most Persian restaurants, and it is not to be missed.
Female property Taste of Tehran, who appeared in an episode of Unknown parties: Tehrangeles, is also a local favorite. “When she has fesenjoon it’s amazing,” says Larian Hekmat of Cult Gaia. “Make sure you have mast o mousir [a yogurt and shallot dip] and do a loghmeh [which is Farsi for] the perfect bite. In Glendale, home to a large Iranian Armenian community, Raffi’s place is known for its generous portions of beef and chicken kebabs which always draw a long line. Try Soltani Beef for a combination of ground beef and filet mignon skewers.
Where to satisfy your sweet tooth
Saffron and Rose, a third generation ice cream maker (formerly known as Golo Bol Bol) serves quintessentially Persian flavors like saffron pistachio, pomegranate and white rose. The newly opened Mashti Malone’s is another popular ice cream shop that serves faloodeh filled with vermicelli, similar to sherbet and traditionally topped with lemon juice and cherry syrup. For dry pastries and other sweet treats, Pink Orchid Bakery serves bomeeyeh, a Persian donut, small round balls of fried dough soaked in sugar and rosewater syrup.
Stores to stock up
The stretch of Pico Boulevard between Beverwil Drive and La Cienega Boulevard is concentrated with kosher restaurants, markets and Judaica boutiques that have everything you need to make a Persian Jewish grandmother proud. The most iconic is the Iranian kosher supermarket, Élat Market, which is as much a social gathering place for older Iranian women as it is a grocery store. Friday mornings tend to be the busiest as patrons prepare for lavish Shabbat dinners (the market is closed on Saturdays accordingly).
A few doors down the road, locals flock to Faraj skewer, a kosher butcher’s shop and a simple restaurant where you can buy ready-to-grill marinated skewers for Sunday barbecues, and on Fridays a traditional Persian meatball dish, gondi, which is only served on Shabbat. In the middle of the week, locals will sit down for a quick meal of piping hot chicken kebabs and barg served a la carte.
When you need a break from eating, step into Mansour on Melrose Avenue to shop for an impressive collection of handmade tapestries.
Where to find out more
Each year, the spring equinox (usually around March 21) marks the start of the Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz. Bright pink hyacinth and periwinkle blossoms perfume the sidewalks of Westwood Boulevard, and many stores display a traditional handle, an arrangement of seven symbolic objects beginning with the letter “S”. Nowruz’s biggest festivities take place at UCLA and will resume in 2022 (event details to be released here).
Between October 3 and January 9, 2022, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts will debut The charm of the unknown, an exhibition by Iranian artist Pouya Afshar that tells the story of immigration, resilience and displacement. Other Iranian events and programs throughout the year can also be found through the Farhang Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote Iranian history and culture.
Originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler