When was the last time you ate hummus? No, not the stodgy supermarket stuff inhaled with baby carrots when there’s nothing else in the fridge — legitimate, honest-to-goodness hummus, the kind that’s impossibly smooth and luscious, made from chickpeas and tahini whipped together with lemon and garlic until they take on the velvety texture of buttercream. If it’s been a while, consider making the trek to Hummus Yummy, LA’s newest (and maybe its greatest) hummus purveyor.
Hummus is one of the Middle East’s most iconic culinary exports, with cultural roots that trace back centuries or more to Egypt and the Levant. Although it may have been an Arabic invention originally, no country has fallen harder for the bewitching power of this silky dip quite like Israel, a place where hummus is considered the de facto street food (sorry shawarma), often served as the centerpiece of a quick meal rather than a side dish.
It was memories of those Israeli hummusiya — casual, quick-serve diners offering fresh hummus like Abu Hassan in Jaffa or Hummus Saeed in Akko — that spurred Shachar “Tony” Weiner, a former real estate broker from Miami, to open Hummus Yummy, his quirkily-named food truck that acts as LA’s first bonafide hummus specialist.
“There is lots of great Israeli food in LA, and great Middle Eastern food in general, but at most places the hummus is kind of an afterthought, or not the main focus,” says Weiner. “There’s a saying that with hummus you have to make it with love or don't make it all, which I find completely true.”
Weiner, a self-professed “hummus freak” and home chef, was born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Haifa, a northern Israeli port city known for its scenic beauty and (relative) serenity. After moving to the U.S., Weiner and his family worked in Miami real estate, though he admits he spent as much time partying at Pitbull-blasting nightclubs as he did selling homes. After the collapse of the housing market, Weiner moved to LA and, among other things, began dabbling in a newly found passion for hummus-making.
Once a week, Wiener would get up around dawn and prepare a large batch of hummus tehina, a process which required the better part of a day, between soaking the dried chickpeas and boiling them until soft and tender. After a month or two of recipe tweaking — and some long distance calls to his restaurant-owning cousins in Tel Aviv — Weiner felt he had nailed the creamy, soft-as-a-cloud hummus he remembered growing up in Haifa. He began to use friends as test subjects (“they’re very, very picky,” he says) when they’d gather for a weekly poker night, though at first he told them the hummus came from his Arabic mechanic, just so they wouldn't hound him mercilessly for more. At some point Wiener let the truth slip, and he quickly became inundated with orders from friends and acquaintances.
As these things tend to go, word of mouth spread like spilled tahini throughout the Israeli community, and before long, Wiener says, “everybody was knocking at my door.” The demand was so great that Weiner decided to launch a full catering operation out of his backyard in North Hollywood, dubbing the new venture Hummus Yummy. The underground operation was comprised of a few plastic tables arranged on the patio, offering a pleasant swimming pool view. Though Weiner promoted his product heavily on social media, Hummus Yummy largely remained a secret among the Israeli expat community, a sort of know-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy speakeasy where the attraction was plates of hummus.
The menu at Hummus Yummy was deliberately simple. There was the basic hummus tehina, slicked with a generous glug of olive oil and chopped parsley. You could get it topped with stewed whole chickpeas (mas’bacha) or slow-cooked fava beans (ful), a boiled egg, sautéed mushrooms, peppery shakshuka sauce, or pretty much any combination of the above — each option wiped up with thick fluffy pita flown in from an Israeli bakery.
As popularity grew, Weiner was beset by customers asking for more flavors, more variations, and more menu items. “Hummus is meant to be a base,” he says. ”I wanted to keep it as traditional as possible because [this] was the classic hummus we grew up on. Americans are used to things like avocado or beet hummus, but for Israeli people it’s all about keeping the hummus simple.”
The one concession Weiner did make — after countless demands — was to serve falafel, which he developed in basically the same fashion as his hummus, researching and tweaking the recipe until the results matched what he remembered from his childhood. The result is pretty spectacular: small crunchy gumballs covered in a shaggy-crisp crust, with a soft, herb-green center the texture of warm risotto. A order of a half-dozen can disappear in the time it takes to snap your fingers.
Last summer, Weiner began to realize that Hummus Yummy was becoming far too popular to run out of his backyard. His original idea was to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant somewhere in the Valley (a plan that’s still in the works) but after delays in finding the right space, he opted to launch a food truck in late December. It’s a secondhand rig, painted bright green and bearing the Hummus Yummy logo along with the motto “the beast from the Middle East.”
The menu remains mostly the same, though a variety of pita sandwiches garnished with Israeli salad was added to satiate those who found hummus plates as full meals a bit unorthodox. At the truck you’ll also find a solid rendition of the Israeli dessert malabi, a dense jiggly milk pudding smothered in rosewater and crushed pistachios, as well as fried cauliflower, a za’atar-dusted chickpea salad and, as a nod to their universal appeal, french fries (they’re pretty addictive dipped in hummus). If you’re compelled by such things, it’s also worth noting that everything on the menu — except for the optional boiled egg — is incidentally vegan.
For now, you’ll find the truck posted up during lunch hours at various locations around LA, mostly in the San Fernando Valley, though occasionally near Mid-City. Details are available on the truck’s website and through various social media outlets, although you can expect Hummus Yummy to be open every day except Saturday (they don’t roll on Shabbos). And as of this past Sunday, you’ll also find them stationed at Smorgasburg in Downtown.
Having cemented a cult following among L.A.’s Israeli community, Weiner hopes that his new nomadic hummusiya will expose a wider swath of Angelenos to the charms of Israeli hummus, much in the way spots like Dizengoff in New York and Shaya in New Orleans have similarly illuminated unsuspecting palates. “I’ve been eating hummus since I was four years old. Most of us were raised on the stuff,” he says. “I know you can find hummus everywhere now, but I think Americans aren’t as familiar with Israeli way. When you do it right, it’s a thing of beauty.”
Hummus Yummy sticks mostly to the Valley, but you can find them Sundays at Smorgasburg