As the final days of 2019 approach, the Los Angeles Times co-reviewers keep surveying restaurants throughout the city. Reviewers took a look at traditional Lebanese done right in Tarzana, and just in time for the holidays, machine-made tamales from a shop Downtown.
Mona’s Kitchen in Tarzana
First, critic Bill Addison ventured into the Valley to Mona’s Kitchen, where owner George Marjik “pulls off plenty of these dishes with a level of finesse that makes the restaurant worth a jaunt for lovers of Lebanese cuisine.” Plus, there’s plenty of history:
“When I first ate at Mona’s Kitchen, something about the general mix of the menu felt familiar to me. Founding chef Mona Kalout was previously chef at Hayat’s Kitchen, a decade-old North Hollywood institution, and brought with her many of the dishes she’d mastered there. Kalout is Marjik’s ex-wife; she moved on from Mona’s Kitchen not long after its opening in March. Marjik took over with plenty of restaurant experience: He’s part of the family that runs branches of Zankou Chicken, the chain that started in Beirut in 1962 and has a dozen locations throughout Southern California.”
Addison labels Mona’s meats as the star of the menu:
“Meat in several forms is the forte at Mona’s Kitchen, as it is at many Lebanese restaurants here. Pomegranate molasses jangles melting chicken livers with its distinct sour-sweetness. Beef and chicken kebabs are easy to wolf down, tender and precisely salted. Makanek — plump beef sausages scented with clove, nutmeg and white pepper and varnished with lemon juice — outpaces soujouk, its denser, drier cousin.
Artesano Tamaleria in Downtown’s Fashion District
After Mona’s Kitchen, a quick trek down the 101 and into the edge of the Fashion District is Artesano Tamaleria. Patricia Escárcega quickly points out that Artesano’s tamales are made by machine, not by hand. Escárcega does not disparage owners Jorge Gonzalez and Nelida Ayala for their choice, and says the tamales “do not taste radically different than those assembled by hand.”
Escárcega describes Artesano Tamaleria as a “reimagining the neighborhood tamaleria (tamale shop).”
“The machine can press out hundreds of Mexican-style tamales an hour — smooth, chubby, unwrapped tubes of masa filled with meats, veggies, cheeses or whatever other sweet or savory ingredients a tamale chef can dream up.”
Escárcega provides a warning about the parking situation, but has clear favorites on the menu:
“The masa — stippled with dark, meaty fragments of sauteed mushrooms and onions — is soft and moist, halfway between a cake and custard. Velvety frijoles tamales are similarly compelling. The bean-heavy masa, marbled with chipotle-spiced refried beans, has a rich, meaty depth; Gonzalez has nicknamed the tamal “the Mexican Power Bar.”
Mona’s Kitchen. 18970 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
Artesano Tamaleria. 819 Santee St, Downtown