Listen to “Shapes of Things,” a psychedelic late 1960s tune from the Yardbirds, a rock band fueled by guitar legends like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, and your brain may drift toward mind-bending visions. One item that may not pop immediately to mind is baklava, a shape-shifting geometric pastry that started in the Middle East and eventually emanated to the Mediterranean and beyond.
Countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Armenia, and Iran all offer unique twists on baklava’s rich baking tradition, with plenty of variation, depending on region, city, or baker. Ultimately, baklava essentially boils down to three key components: phyllo dough, nuts, and syrup sweetener. Baklava takes many forms, whether it’s cashew-filled ladyfingers, pistachio-stuffed rafts, or walnut-fueled squares, to name just three of the most ubiquitous shapes.
In L.A., the San Fernando Valley is the best place to find great baklava, but there are certainly sweet outliers in areas like the Westside, South Bay, and San Gabriel Valley. Unlock your mind and embrace 10 of the best baklavas in Los Angeles, all made in-house.
Tehran native Mostafa Motlagh presides over Bibi Sara, a small Persian restaurant that’s been located in the same Woodland Hills strip mall as Blinkie’s Donut Emporium since 2007. The name translates from Farsi as “grandma’s house.” The homey space features green and red walls, only five tables, and a tantalizing tray of baghlava in a case on the counter. Little dough packets shimmer thanks to honey syrup. Each piece contains chewy dates and crushed pistachios and comes topped with more pistachios. 4878 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Caesar’s Pastry was 36 years in the works. That’s how long Lebanon native Naim Khachacho baked professionally before filling circular steel trays at the Granada Hills bakery he runs with wife Jacqueline, son Jean-Paul, and daughter Joelle. L.A.’s most ambitious baklava shop sells flaky phyllo parallelograms, triangles containing crushed walnuts or pistachios, and ladyfingers crammed with cashews. The “Queen” looks like a sticky inner tube overflowing with crushed pistachios.
Bourma balouria are squares of kadayif (pastry threads) that come in two tones, depending on cooking time, with two patties sandwiching pistachios, drizzled with aromatic rosewater. Caesar’s Queen is positively regal, rising and spanning about four inches, featuring a kadayif bird’s nest nestled with glazed almonds or walnuts, fragrant rosewater, and glistening sugar syrup. 11852 Balboa Blvd, Granada Hills, CA 91344
Hassan Shatila celebrates hayat (life) at the Lebanese restaurant he runs in a North Hollywood strip mall. He fills trays daily with baklava, including cashew filled ladyfingers, and better yet, crushed walnut filled rhombuses with buttery phyllo layers, a judicious amount of simple syrup, and a dusting of crushed pistachios on top. 11009 Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601
Hamid Haque hails from Pakistan and previously ran Shaffa in the same space before pivoting to Hummus House. Decorative red, yellow, and royal blue drapes provide a colorful backdrop for Middle Eastern comfort food. Finish with “traditional” baklava. Chopped pistachios and walnuts tag team buttery phyllo sheets, which are finished with a drizzle of clover honey. Hummus House also makes coconut and chocolate versions. 12211 Hawthorne Blvd, Hawthorne, CA 90250
Jé Jé Chicken
Shawn Sayegh and brother Elias were born in Aleppo, Syria, and previously ran a San Dimas catering company. Now they incorporate mom Hala’s recipes at Jé Jé Chicken, a Balboa Mission Plaza restaurant that opened in 2011. Jé Jé means chicken in Arabic, thus the chicken logo. A countertop case is baklava’s domain. They layer phyllo with chopped walnuts and cinnamon, fragrant rosewater syrup, and top with crushed pistachios. 16970 San Fernando Mission Blvd, Granada Hills, CA 91344
The Kitchen @ Westwood
Huseyin Ilhan and wife Hava hail from Turkey and opened The Kitchen starring their country’s cuisine just south of Westwood Village in 2015. A three-level, countertop glass case features baked goods like baklava. By all means order a rectangle with buttery tiles of phyllo, simple syrup, and crushed, bright green Gaziantep pistachios. 1510 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Maral Sarkhoshian and her baker husband, Hovsep, have thrived since 1999 in the back corner of Van Oak Plaza. Their small shop produces big flavor, including three racks of display case real estate devoted to baklava. Maral’s Pastry sells one pound, minimum. Choose for yourself or submit to dealer’s choice. Possibilities include two different ladyfingers and bird’s nests filled with pistachios or cashews, all light and subtly sweet. 17654 W Vanowen St, Van Nuys, CA 91406
Nick Melikian is taking his mother's recipes for Persian and American cakes and pastries public in Tarzana. His bakery features just two sidewalk tables, and a wood counter with three tree stump stools, but an array of baked options. Shirin Bakery’s baklava features flaky phyllo up top and syrup soaked, cinnamon-tinged walnuts below. 19505 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91356
Cecilia Sam, son Donny and their family offer “A Taste of Istanbul” at Shish Mediterranean in Studio City. Mottled tan walls host Istanbul travel posters and Turkish memorabilia. Baklava is house-made and organic, soaked in honey, with flaky, butter-brushed phyllo and a crown of vivid green crumbled pistachios. 11052 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604
Sianto’s Bakery Café
Armine Sargsyan is from Yerevan, Armenia, but serves Lebanese food at Sianto’s Bakery Café, the La Crescenta bakery and café she revamped in 2014. Flatbreads are the main attraction, but don’t sleep on Sianto’s baklava, large diamonds of buttery phyllo with crushed walnuts, honey sweetener, and a crushed pistachio garnish. 3747 Foothill Blvd, La Crescenta, CA 91214