About a month ago, my interest was piqued by Josh Lurie’s Food GPS article on Pico Boulevard’s latest Kosher restaurant Shawarma Palace. Wherever roasted meat is carved off a slowly turning spit, good things are sure to follow. Be it shawarma, döner, al pastor, gyro or any other incarnation of what is arguably the world’s most ubiquitous street food, I am more than willing to make the trip. Found in a section of LA known more for take-out shops serving Glatt dinners and Matzoh flour, Shawarma Palace offers a version of Isreali cuisine that differs greatly from the Eastern European influence found in many Jewish delicatessens. Owner Pinchas Sherf, an 1980’s emigre of Tel Aviv, decided to open a shawarma shop which featured a style of cuisine rarely seen in LA, outside of Tarzana’s relatively small Isreali community. It is worth noting that Isreali Shawarma is decidedly Arab in its roots, having been adapted to Kosher traditions by Mizrachi Jews, citizens of Israel who claim Middle Eastern descent. Despite the seemingly insurmountable disagreements that presently exist between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors, it’s easy to forget that both cultures share many things, one being a deep affection for what both collectively refer to as shawarma.
Upon walking into Shawarma Palace, whose light-blue walls are painted with Hebrew scripture, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the two small spits of meat that spin in the back of the kitchen. The version served here is both authentic and decidedly unique. The animal du jour during lunch is a blend of chicken and turkey meat, though a lamb spit is additionally prepared for dinner. The poultry here is heavily marinated the night before, which gives the dark chicken meat a yellow hue from it’s coating in turmeric, among other spices. The meat develops a crisp sear while roasted on the skewer before being shaved off and finished on a flat top grill. Though authentic tradition dictates that the meat is to be carved directly from the spit then served, Shawarma Palace’s technique ensures the meat retains its flavor and moisture while being properly cooked. The shawarma here is without question one of the most well seasoned I’ve ever tasted. Its fatty tenderness is punctuated by the robust flavors of salt, garlic, cumin, and lemon which are immediately present in each bite. When the meat is eaten by itself its strong and savory flavors are best tempered by the addition of the dozen of salads on hand: dill-scented rice, diced tomatoes and cucumbers with olive oil, roasted eggplant, marinated olives, sweet carrot-orange salad, tart red cabbage slaw or roasted beets blended with yogurt. The best choice, though, is to spring for one of their wraps: a choice of thick pita bread or laffah, an Isreali flatbread, is smeared with hummus and a spicy red pepper paste called harrissa. It’s then topped with either shawarma or falafel along with any salads of your choosing, then finally rolled up deftly as a Cuban cigar. The result is a hefty torpedo that bursts with all the best flavors and textures to be found here. At $8-10 a sandwich, it’s a bit too pricey to be considered street food, however it is generally in keeping with the higher costs of Kosher restaurants in the area.
Though both owners are proud of their Isreali heritage, as they are willing to tell anyone who inquires, the food they serve transcends beyond any one people or one nation. As the sign outside claims Shawarma Palace serves not only a variety of Mediterranean sandwiches, but also can claim some of the best in the city. In only a few times dining here I’ve watched Pinchas chat with Turkish, Lebanese, Persian and Greek customers, amongst others. They each shared recollections of the countries and cultures they left behind, and regardless of how far they came or how long since they had returned, were united in their appreciation for good food.
8879 Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035