In many ways, the stretch of Route 210 between the 5 and 2 freeways feels like L.A.’s final frontier. Semi-trailer trucks barrel down (or crawl up) asphalt that cuts between the Verdugo Mountains and San Gabriel Mountains. The only things you’ll see are the occasional church, trailhead, or house perched up on a ridge. Wind north to Foothill Boulevard, the area’s main drag, and you’ll find a surprising hotbed for international cuisine. The roster includes Mediterranean bakeries, Sri Lankan comfort food, and Mante House, specializing in boat-shaped Armenian dumplings.
Stainless steel tables with black cushioned chairs line a rail-framed patio with a red awning. Inside, you’ll find a few more tables, LED photo menus, blackboard specials, and a cold case for a tangy yogurt drink called doogh. Order at a stone-fronted counter and retreat to the patio to enjoy a view of the mountains in all their glory.
Mante ($10.99 for 12” tray and 2 sauces - $17.99 for 16” tray and 4 sauces) involve a choice of beef, chicken, or veggie. The boat-shaped dumplings are baked (though they’re also available fried), with juicy fillings only slightly bigger than pencil erasers and crispy dough pinches on each side.
Beef is by far the most popular filling, an 80/20 blend seasoned with paprika and secret spices. Owner Vic Frnzyan says, “Our moms only made beef. Not everybody likes beef, so I had to expand.” Chicken consists of ground leg and thigh meat and even more secrets. The veggie variety incorporates mushroom, onion, cilantro, and spinach and qualifies as vegan. Each tray comes with a steel Pillsbury pie server.
A mante square ($6.49) is well suited for solo diners, containing 25 pieces served on checked paper with a choice of side. Consider creamy hummus, cabbage salad, or gooey mac and cheese.
Toppings cost 50 cents each and include cilantro, olives, onions, jalapeno, or pepperoncini. You can also pile on an array of sauces: garlic yogurt, spicy Louisiana, traditional red, Parmesan garlic, sweet & sour, chipotle and/or nacho cheese. I’d recommend red, a zesty blend of tomato paste, garlic, cumin, allspice, and sumac. Tangy garlic yogurt qualifies as traditional, and comes with good bite.
Frnzyan grew up on traditional Armenian cooking, but likes to play with his food. Mante nachos ($14.99 - $21.99) are a blackboard special topped with garlic yogurt, nacho cheese, dabs of guac, sliced black olives, mildly spicy pickled jalapenos and, at least during my visit, wan winter tomatoes. Hot Cheetos mante include garlic yogurt, nacho cheese and crumbled Hot Cheetos, if you want a junk food mash-up.
Mante House demonstrates the namesake dish’s versatility in many dishes. Mante soup ($4.99) morphs the staple into a tangy, diluted red sauce bobbing with fried dumplings. You’ll have to eat it quickly before the crispy mante get too soggy.
Grilled cheese mante forms the dumplings suspended like ants in amber between a molten yellow cheese while Mante meatballs and a mante burger boast the same beef blend that’s used in dumplings, but in different forms.
Mante House replaced a catering company in March 2015. Once the former owner decided to close, he reached out to Vic Frnzyan about filling the space. Frnzyan was scouting locations for a mante restaurant after working in an assortment of jobs from photo editing and jewelry to mechanics and construction. He even owned a junkyard in Pacoima.
Born in Armenia, Frnzyan moved with his family to L.A. when he was three years old, and often joined his mother Hermine in the kitchen. Mante was always his favorite dish, though Mom made them infrequently, since they’re so labor intensive. He says, “If you were to do it at home, it would take three hours to make it, and it would be gone in five minutes.”
Mante House also sells sandwiches and salads, but it’s better to stick with Middle Eastern classics.
Khinkali ($1 each or $5 for an order of six) are more rustic dumplings available fried or boiled. The fried version is best, featuring flaky knots filled with juicy ground beef patties. Kufta ($1.50 each or $7.50 for an order of 6) come as deep-fried, football shaped appetizers encasing ground beef between coating of bulgur and leaner ground beef.
For dessert, squares of walnut baklava are made in-house, but they were sold out when I visited.
Frnzyan estimates that 90% of his customers are Armenian, given mante’s close association with the culture and foothill demographics, but it’s time that the wider community latch onto those boat-shaped dumplings.
Mante House, 6852 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga, 818.875.4973