In Iran, kashcool is a traditional clay thermos, the only possession that Kufi people value. Kufis (Dervishes in Farsi) are models of anti-materialism, fueled solely by a desire to get closer to God. Kufis are known to meditate and chant, and are satisfied with nothing more than a kashcool full of food or water. Kashcool Kitchen in Van Nuys couldn’t possibly achieve that level of focus, but does display impressive devotion to its craft, building on culinary traditions that span three continents and five decades, resulting in LA’s most memorable Persian-style kabobs.
Los Angeles is home to the largest population of Iranian-Americans outside of Iran, with some estimates exceeding half a million. Advanced education first motivated relocation. Ayatollah Khomeini’s ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza in 1979 spurred an even bigger flood of immigration. Since then, dozens of Persian restaurants have opened to meet the needs of nostalgic diners. Westwood Boulevard is a cultural epicenter with the moniker Persian Square, but some of the best Persian restaurants exist in the San Fernando Valley. Kashcool Kitchen, however, would stand out anywhere.
What makes the place so special? Co-owner Mahtab Javadian-Saraf refers to five decades of experience and high-quality ingredients. The restaurant originally debuted in Mashad, Iran, back in 1969. The family-run restaurant relocated to Vancouver for 12 years and reemerged in Woodland Hills in 2014.
After three years in the back corner of a strip mall with a large 100-seat dining room, Javadian-Saraf and husband Farhad Mehrtash downsized to a smaller, higher-traffic space across from Van Nuys Courthouse West that’s geared more toward takeout. It makes sense to focus on catering and takeout since this tiny dining room only has three tables. An elaborate gilded 3D mural that Mehrtash hand-carved from plaster tells the story of Koroush, better known in English as Cyrus the Great, who first united the ancient Medes and Persian tribes and ruled what is now Iran for three decades during the mid 500s BC.
A Persian-American customer named Dave Azimi eats at Kashcool Kitchen three times a week and chimed in about how skillfully Kaschool butchers their Halal meat. He’s been known to take down a kebab combo for three people by himself, and has no regrets, saying, “When you eat food and don’t get that bloated feeling afterwards, you know it’s good quality.”
Beef lovers will appreciate filet mignon sultani kabob ($23), a combo that pairs 12 ounces of lean filet chunks that are “tenderized & marinated in onions and spices” like saffron and secrets. A luscious 7-ounce ground beef skewer called koobideh that sports juicy waves and a long, sausage-like form. Lamb rack shishlik sultani kabob ($28) pairs that terrific koobideh with a 16-ounce, six-piece serving of rack of lamb with rosy centers and beautifully seared coats. Chops this good inspire many diners to gnaw down to the bone.
Chicken breast and vegetable skewers also been known to grace the grill’s grates, but Kashchool Kitchen has repeatedly proven that red meat is the way to go. Kabob options are focused. It’s really just a matter of how much meat each customer wants. Quantities rise to the level of “imperial kabob platter” that feeds a family of five people. Wild Canadian salmon kabob ($12 at lunch) is their only seafood option, featuring luscious chunks seasoned liberaly with lemon, saffron, and more family secrets.
Each kabob plate comes with a grilled Roma tomato and fluffy, saffron-stained, long-grained basmati rice. For $3, Kaschool lets customers upgrade to a flavored basmati rice. Zereshk polo touts tiny, tart barberries. Sour cherry rice complements colorful pitted stonefruit with sweet fried onions. Shevid baghali polo, basmati rice folded with dill and fava beans, is better suited to seafood. Secrecy also factors into the house-made Kashcool hot sauce, which boosts any meal with a judiciously spicy green slurry made with jalapeño, lime juice, herbs, and spices.
Appetizers center on flavorful Persian dips that slather easily on the thin flatbread lavash. Kashk-e-bademjan ($7) is a smoky roasted eggplant dip dressed with fried onions, whey, and dried mint. Hummus ($5) is a vivid yellow stunner crafted with creamy chickpeas, tahini, herbs, fried garlic, and more of that magical combo: fried onions and dried mint. Mast-o-khiar ($5) is a tangy, cooling yogurt cucumber dip with still more dried mint that beautifully counterbalances Kashcool’s grilled meats.
Dolmeh ($5) are especially good stuffed grape leaves, served warm, crammed with rice and herbs, and served in a shallow pool of sweet and sour sauce. The couple also serves tahdig (crispy rice) piled with traditional Persian stews, plus burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Kashcool even makes seemingly kooky mash-ups like salmon poke salad poutine and Philly cheesesteak poutine, but they’re just carry-overs from the couple’s days in Canada.
Loyalists like Azimi swear by the iced black tea with fresh mint leaves and lime, which is certainly refreshing, but “home style” doogh ($3) is the best place to start. This savory 16-ounce yogurt beverage incorporates dried mint, and a secret herb from Iran that “lets you relax,” according to Javadian-Saraf. Kashcool also serves ice-blended watermelon and lime juices and brews Turkish coffee that’s rife with grounds. Their signature dessert is a smooth, fragrant saffron, crème, and rose water ice cream ($5) garnished with chopped pistachios.
Customers craving comfort at a different temperature will appreciate house-made baklava ($4). Warm, butter-brushed phyllo contains crushed almonds fused with a sticky mix of simple syrup, honey, and a hint of rose water. The baklava comes showered with crushed pistachios, sliced, and is served in a Stonehenge-like circle with a toothpick.
Javadian-Saraf is known for grilling stellar kabobs, but her family’s Persian comfort food repertoire clearly runs far deeper. If there was ever a good reason to willingly venture to Van Nuys Courthouse West, it’s Kashcool Kitchen.