Long after the lights go out on the bulk of businesses at Encino’s Capri Plaza, people are just settling into the back of a long and lean brick courtyard that’s just beyond the reach of Google Street View. B B Saara is a patio-centric restaurant that’s popular with Persian-Americans who come to smoke hookah and eat comfort food until 4 a.m.
The daytime is low-key, with just a few diners. The moon ushers in a totally different vibe, with people filing into red and black clothed tables to smoke flavored tobacco, listen to Arabic music, and of course, to eat. On nights B B Saara hosts parties, action spills into a private room with twin pianos, guitars, and flat screen TVs for multimedia theatrics.
B B Saara doesn’t have the kitchen space to accommodate a bread oven, but owner Moe Nourkhah developed a recipe for sandwich bread that he bakes at an off-site facility using a blend of Persian and American grains. His soft hoagie-like roll is toasted and pairs beautifully with beef tongue ($8.95).
Thick slices are boiled and roasted until fork-tender and stacked with crisp iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayo, and punchy Persian pickled cucumbers. Mortadella and kuku sabzi (herbed frittata) are other possible fillings. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, you can combine creamy maghz (lamb brains) with beef tongue, which go together like offal PB&J.
Moe Nourkhah grew up in Tehran and opened B B Saara in summer 2016 with a name that translates from Farsi as “Grandma’s Place”. He maintains a strong connection to his homeland, sourcing herbs, spices, pickles, and grains to deliver authentic flavors.
B B Saara serves a bunch of dips to start, including mast-o khiar (cucumber yogurt), mast-o moosir (shallot yogurt), and kashk e bademjan (roasted eggplant dip), but I’d suggest ash e anar ($7.95) above all else. This tangy vegetable soup features a slick of pomegranate molasses, vegetables, hearty black-eyed peas, pink beans lentils, and an enlightening mix of parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and two mystery herbs. You should also inquire about soup of the day, which was chicken noodle during my visit.
Kabobs may not be legally required at Persian meals, but they’re certainly strongly encouraged. Lule kabob ($11.95) is a ground beef kabob that also goes by koobideh, In B B Saara’s case, they appear as patties, a 70/30 blend of beef/lamb that’s seasoned with parsley, sumac, and turmeric, which stains the meat yellow. Each juicy quintet arrives on a raft of pull-apart, whole-wheat sangak. You’ll also receive iceberg lettuce salad dressed with tomato, olive, and more, all drizzled with tangy, creamy dressing, to temper richness.
I’ve seen photos of lule served with saffron-stained rice domes sporting crispy crusts (tahdig), but by the time the day’s batch was done baking, I was ready to drive home.
Kuku is the aforementioned frittata that’s baked for 30 minutes until spongy with egg, parsley, dill, and two unnamed Iranian herbs. A vivid green wedge comes with tomato and tart pickled cucumber spears imported from Iran. Ask and Nourkhah may also break out house-made pickles starring cabbage and celery that pack even more bite.
Some of the most compelling dishes are pictured on the menu under a “Seasonal” heading. Massive lima beans are deep brown and served in murky jus. They come with vinegar to liven up an inherently bland, earthy quality. Nourkhah also sprinkles golpar, a green spice designed to limit gas. A little bit of lima beans is plenty, so be sure to split the order.
If you’re suffering from anemia, or just enjoy organ meats, B B Saara also serves unlisted liver and heart kabobs ($7 for one each), which are bright red and taste best with a squeeze of lemon, folded around a swath of blood-stained sangak sandal.
Nourkhah is also proud of his Persian pizza, a cracker-thin disc blanketed with bell peppers, tomato, olives, mushrooms, mortadella, and universally beloved hot dogs. Considering all of the classic Persian options, pizza will have to wait until a future visit.
Dessert is skippable, featuring locally sourced sweets like baghlava, zulbia, and bamieh. If you want an unusual float, get Persian ice cream swimming in a glass of carrot juice.
B B Saara serves “real” hookah, but Nourkhah insists most people don’t come for the pipe. He broke down statistics, saying, “90% come for food, 10% come for the hookah.” As people try beef tongue sandwiches or kabobs, that ratio may tilt even more.
B B Saara, 15928 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818.789.3778, www.bbsaaraencino.com