Is there anything better than fire-roasted, spit-shaved meat crammed into a sandwich or piled on a plate with rice, salad, and hummus? Popular theory suggests that the vertical spit arose in Turkey. Now the practice has spread all over the world, with many variations in the Middle East. It's likely that no American city has benefited more from the tradition than Los Angeles, which has a wide swath of shawarma specialists that all swear by proprietary spice blends that become rubs and marinades.
Prominent pockets reside in the western San Fernando Valley, Glendale, and Hollywood. It was tough to narrow this list down to 10 destinations. Arrive early, since the big stacks of shawarma whittle down by the end of the day. Bonus: that leaves you with time to squeeze in multiple stops.
Best Shawarma is an Armenian-run shawarma specialist that sprouted up in a Glendale strip mall in 2011. Avetis "Avo" Ordakian provides LED photo menus that showcase the byproducts of four different spits. Best Shawarma shaves chicken and beef, sure, but also lamb and pork. Each shawarma sports a different marinade. Sandwiches are available on rolls, pita, or lavash with tomato, onion, cilantro, and mayo-based "house special sauce." Shawarma plates cost $10.99, except for lamb, which means springing for an extra dollar. Expect accompaniments like steamed white rice, salad, hummus, and nutty tahini sauce. 602 W. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, (818) 550-7577
Unlike most Beverly Hills doctors, who may wield a scalpel or needle of Botox, Dr. Sandwich's instrument of choice is a knife to shave shawarma. This colorful orange and green restaurant in Doheny Village features a glass front. Servers in amusing lime green scrubs wear stethoscopes around their necks. Pita, baguette, laffa, and panini are all acceptable shawarma delivery systems, but we'd suggest their chicken shawarma plate ($15.95), which comes with cabbage slaw and hummus topped with garbanzo beans. Dr. Sandwich almost exclusively uses chicken thigh, which receives a dry rub of secret spice blend. 9113 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 278-7777
Hummus Bar Express
Hummus Bar Express, an airy Israeli spinoff of Tarzana's Hummus Bar & Grill, transitioned over the hill to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade to start 2013. The sprawling fast casual restaurant features high-top seating, a pleasant enough patio, and some serious shawarma. Hummus Bar Express marinates chicken thighs with 15 different spices including turmeric, which stains the meat yellow. Lamb fat also rests atop the stack, providing melting juiciness as the spit turns. Chicken shawarma is available in a pita sandwich, cradled in supple laffa, or served in 10-ounce plate ($14.50) that's dusted with enlightening parsley. 1333 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 260-1994
Tel Aviv native Joe Mattar, who made a name for himself with Pita Pockets near Cal State Northridge is now more centrally located with Joe's Falafel in Universal City. Chicken shawarma features juicy thighs marinated in amba, turmeric, and cumin. Each plate ($10.50) comes with saffron stained rice pilaf, pickled vegetables, and spicy chile sauce. Be sure to supplement with house-baked, whole-wheat laffa, which is pull-apart, dusted with semolina, and sports a crispy bottom. 3535 Cahuenga Blvd. W, Universal City, (323) 512-4447
The Succar brothers — business minded Mel and chef Charlie — hail from Bsharri, Lebanon, and opened Saj Bakery in a Granada Hills strip mall in 2013. Twin shawarma spits host chicken and beef, both fantastic in their own ways. Charlie Succar wouldn't give away many secrets to how he marinates each cone of meat, but he did say chicken thighs are never frozen so it doesn't get watery from thawing. The beef shawarma layers beef fat into choice-grade chuck to keep the meat juicy. Each sandwich costs $7.99, plus an extra buck to get your sandwich on house-baked saj, which is well worth the surcharge. Blistered, pliable bread hosts flame-singed meat, pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, and garlic sauce. With each order, you'll get a plate of pickled cucumbers, purple pickled turnip spears, and punchy pepperoncini. 11146 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills, (818) 368-4000
Sam Skaf's eponymous restaurant, Skaf's Grill, has been a North Hollywood mainstay and spawned a Glendale spinoff from daughter Nora and sister Marlene in 2007. Sam and son Alan still run their Lebanese restaurant in the corner of a freeway-friendly strip mall. Shawarma is the first thing you'll see through the entrance. Beef shawarma and chicken shawarma are both popular, but we suggest getting a combo ($15.50), which marries two delicious kingdoms. Top sirloin luxuriates in red wine, vinegar, and spices before rotating on a spit topped with tomato and lemon slices, which are largely decorative. Chicken breast, leg, and thigh meat bathes in Lebanese yogurt, garlic, and spices. Crusty shaved meat joins tangy cabbage salad, rich hummus, rice, pita, tahini, garlic paste, sumac dusted onions, tomato, pepperoncini, and pickled turnip. 6008 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 985-5701
Moti Eliyahu, who hails from the northern Israel town of Migdal HaEmek, opened SchnitzBurger in 2012, which morphed into Shawarma Dadon. The name of this kosher restaurant in Valley Village honors the last name of a close friend. The space is barely remarkable, with black furniture, and an equal number of flat screen TVs and mirrors (three). The restaurant's signature shawarma plate ($13.99) features chicken thigh that's spiced with secrets, plus curry, turmeric, and cumin, stacked with lamb, and held down on the spit by whole onion. Each plate comes with tahini-topped hummus, a choice of rice or French fries, and a choice of salads, including green or purple cabbage, pickled cucumbers, and fried eggplant. Request hot sauces, either green sauce with jalapeño, herbs and garlic; oily pepper sauce, or a mix of both. Dadon also sells pita, baguette and laffa sandwiches. 12514 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 462-5498
Andrew Faour started by opening The Pub at Chino Hills with chef Matthew Carpenter. Souk Shawarma harkens back to his heritage, complete with black and white photos of the Souk. Dad is from Zeda, Syria, and his mom is from nearby Farouzi. Carpenter previously worked at Momed in Beverly Hills, where duck shawarma remains popular, so duck also makes an appearance on Souk Shawarma's menu.
This rare (for L.A.) wood-burning shawarma house cooks six different meats "for the carnivore" on horizontal spits over smoldering oak. Chicken breast and thigh, beef sirloin, spicy beef soujouk, and spicy Moroccan style lamb sausage are all available, though we'd suggest starting with duck and lamb. Duck leg and thigh are seasoned in ras el hanout and marinated in "secret souk sauce." Boneless lamb shoulder bathes in pomegranate molasses and chile. Depending on the meat, wraps cost $7.99 to $9.99. Add $2.50 for a plate. 1111 Wilshire Blvd., Downtown, (213) 935-8373
Sunnin Lebanese Café
Sunnin is a Westwood institution from Chef Em-Toni and family that dates to 1996, serving Lebanese food in a sea of Persian restaurants. The space features exposed wood rafters with skylights, art-lined yellow walls, and a semi-open kitchen with two spits. Beef shawarma pales in comparison to chicken shawarma, which features a 75/25 blend of white and dark meat that bathes in a secret garlic-based marinade. Sure, you can get a pita sandwich, but the stronger play is a plate ($12.75) that comes with rice, nutty tahini, and Lebanese salad with cucumber, tomato and lettuce. Sunnin recently expanded to Santa Monica and also serves shawarma, but at higher prices because, hey, it's Santa Monica. 1776 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 475-3358
Tel Aviv Grill
This popular Israeli restaurant from Doron Goldberg and business Tzahi Yom Tov relocated from Reseda to Tarzana's Windsor Center in the summer of 2015. The restaurant is often mayhem, with people lining up cafeteria style at a counter with lime a backdrop of lime green walls and a photo mural of Tel Aviv. This popular Glatt Kosher restaurant perpetually piles chicken shawarma onto plates ($12.95), into baguettes, pita, and laffa with a wide variety of toppings. Regardless of the delivery method, the shaved and pan-finished shawarma is a hit. Boneless chicken thighs are rubbed with 22-25 secret spices per batch, which may sound excessive, but works wonders. 19014 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 774-9400