Some trips have much bigger payoffs than anticipated. When native New Yorker Lisa Matarazzo booked a culinary tour of Istanbul with local chef Mehmet Kaplan, good food was only one takeaway. The guide and tour-goer hit it off, eventually got married, and relocated to Southern California in 2010. Six years later, the couple bought Anaheim’s beloved Al Sanabel Bakery and have infused new life into the Little Arabia standby.
When the couple took over Al Sanabel, the manakish (Lebanese flatbread) institution had been in business for 17 years and was well known, but faced increasing competition from similar restaurants in neighboring strip malls. The bakery was struggling. Given Kaplan’s experience, they rebranded the underutilized kitchen as Koftegi, adding standout Turkish comfort food and baked goods to existing offerings.
Any conversation about Koftegi has to start with the restaurant’s namesake dish: köfte. These ground beef patties are crafted with tri-tip and flavored with lamb fat, cumin, and onion. Koftegi serves several iterations, and their köfte taste best when folded around molten kashkaval, a tangy aged cheese that made with a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk. This plate ($13.99) teams two char-grilled ovals with fluffy white rice, soft house-baked pita, a basic salad, and a dish of creamy hummus dressed with olive oil, parsley, and paprika.
Iskender ($14.99) is a historic dish named for 19th century Ottoman culinary legend İskender Efendi and features a combination of beef chuck and lamb shoulder that’s marinated for 48 hours with seasonings that include milk and yogurt juice for the sake of tenderness. Deeply flavored meat is shaved from a vertical spit, showered with a zesty tomato sauce and browned butter on a bed of toasted house-baked pita cubes that beautifully soak up the sauce and juice. Each plate comes with a tangy lake of yogurt and a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, and cabbage that basically serves as a palate cleanser.
Koftegi strays from Al Sanabel’s circular baking traditions by serving boat-shaped flatbreads called pide in Turkey, which the owners dubbed “Turkish Boats.” These thin flatbreads with crispy edges are available with an array of different toppings and constructions.
Walnut lahmbaajin ($5.99) is a crispier oval flatbread blanketed with a thin, tangy layer of ground beef and vegetables and welcomes crumbled walnuts. Cheese & Turkish Soujuk is ($6.99) is a softer, more savory boat with a pointier bow and stern and hosts a thick layer of salty white cheese and firm half-moons of house-made beef “pepperoni.”
Desserts aren’t listed on Koftegi’s LED menu. Instead, they’re kept in a refrigerated case by the register. Ashura ($5) refers to a Muslim holiday that honors the death in battle of Muhammad’s grandson Al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī on the 10th day of Muharram (the first month in the Muslim calendar). People eat this dessert on that date, and year round. The aluminum container featured a base of garbanzo beans, white beans, cracked wheat, dried apricots and figs. This might not sound like dessert, but the judiciously sweet mixture is boiled with sugar and topped with shaved almonds, tangy pomegranate arils, and crushed pistachios.
After installing Koftegi, the owners revamped the entire space, which now features faux stone arches and a tunnel-like entrance that leads to a counter in the “Antique Market Old Bazaar.” Customers grab numbers and sit at blue fast food style booths beneath pale yellow walls lined with photos of Istanbul and neighboring Middle Eastern countries. Kaplan also hung colorful Iznik-style ceramic plates, plus hand-woven Turkish pillow cases and rugs.
Al Sanabel Bakery was already one of Little Arabia’s best flatbread practitioners. Now that Kaplan and Matarazzo have added Koftegi’s Turkish repertoire to the mix, the couple bumped up business and turned the address into even more of a culinary destination.
Koftegi, 816 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, 714.635.4353