Bavel opened in April 2018 from the founders of Bestia, which was already one of LA’s most popular and perpetually busy restaurants. Husband-and-wife chef team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis opened Bestia back in 2013 in one of the city’s most unlikely locations — in the depths of the Arts District. Even back then, after restaurants like Church & State helped put the industrial stretch east of Downtown LA on the map, diners still avoided the area. But Bestia helped launch the neighborhood into one of the hottest in Los Angeles, paving the way for the less cloistered Bavel, which sits in a more visible building along Mateo Street just south of the 4th Street bridge.
The white-hot anticipation for Bavel was perhaps unlike anything Angelenos had ever seen, taking almost five years to finally open. The place has been packed since its opening month, serving upwards of 450 people on busy evenings in a lush, high-ceiling space. It’s a gorgeous room, one that Eater considered the the Design of the Year in 2018, buzzing with energy once the room fills up.
The standout menu of Middle Eastern cuisine was inspired by both Menashe’s and Gergis’s backgrounds from Israel, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt. At the end of 2018, Eater LA declared Bavel the city’s Restaurant of the Year, a near-unanimous decision from not just this site’s editors, but virtually every other food publication in town. Eater critic Bill Addison also named Bavel one of the best new restaurants in America.
Menashe and Gergis talk to Eater about the successes of the past 10 months, and how much they’ve learned in this sophomore effort compared to their opening at Bestia.
Bavel has been the most critically and publicly praised restaurant of the past year. The acclaim is damn near universal, and a lot of that has to do with the hard work of Menashe, Gergis, and their team. Here’s how Gergis and Menashe feel about the response:
OM: We’re thrilled with the outcome of everything. I wasn’t really sure how people would perceive this cuisine and the way we execute it. We’re happy that people are appreciating and enjoying what we’re doing.
On opening a second restaurant, and all the lessons learned after opening Bestia six years ago:
OM: It was a really fun experience opening a second restaurant. You have a lot fewer obstacles because you learned so much from the first one. It was so much better to open Bavel with the experience that we had from Bestia.
GG: It’s like having a kid. (Menashe and Gergis have a daughter named Saffron). The first time is a disaster. A restaurant is the same.
OM: I was more calm and not as stressed. You’re more in control, and you have a better understanding of your abilities. We took a month to train staff, instead of week or two we had with Bestia. At Bavel, we have a larger dish pit and had enough plates. Also we had a lot of veterans from Bestia too, so the training process was a lot easier.
On doing this kind of Middle Eastern cuisine in a city that’s full of great Middle Eastern restaurants:
OM: Everyone has their style of doing Middle Eastern food. All of them are great, and all of them are unique in their own way. I don’t know if I could compare Bavel to them. I enjoy all of them. I’m happy that more Middle Eastern restaurants are opening because I think it’s good for the culture.
GG: Places like Kismet are doing something very different from what we’re doing. Kismet doesn’t have pita or hummus on their menu. It’s hard to compare when they have their own style. Sure they use za’atar and other similar flavor profiles. I think it’s easier to compare Italian food because it’s all pasta to pasta to pasta.
OM: We don’t have a lot of high-end Middle Eastern restaurants to compare Bavel to. No one is following a trend of dishes or styles. With something like pizza, you can compare things like the texture of the dough, sauce, fermentation. I guess the only thing you could compare Bavel to would be our hummus.
On which opening Menashe and Gergis are prouder of — Bestia or Bavel:
OM: We’re proud of Bestia because it was a long shot. The area was a complete unknown. We opened with the lowest budget on the planet, and we were barely able to make it. Most of the money came from our friends. But we’re proud of Bavel because it’s the cuisine of our heritage. We’re proud of both of them, and especially the two teams that are running them.
On LA’s stature in the national food scene:
OM: It’s amazing to see all these chefs come and open restaurants here. It’s a pretty cool time in LA right now. A lot of these chefs see this as a land of opportunity. The farms, the produce — they just want to see what they can do with the products we have. People would always say LA is great but there’s just no culture. There’s so much fucking culture here it’s insane.
On LA’s changing dining culture:
GG: People think the only kind of culture is the Kardashian kind. If you stay in Beverly Hills, you’re not going to see the culture in LA. You’ll see sliced chicken breast, and people making all these modifications. It’s just sad. Over there, there’s no such thing as saying no to the customer. Everything is “in season” all the time. I think that’s why people told me there’s no culture in LA. It’s because Beverly Hills is its own planet. I think the food culture in LA is really changing, where dining out is becoming more of a thing. Instead of just filling up your stomach, it’s about enjoying the night. But people think we’re snobby because we won’t change anything on the menu for them.
OM: They say, the chef is an asshole. That’s the Beverly Hills culture. You’ll never win if you try to please those kinds of diners, but we do try to be as nice as possible.
On what’s left to accomplish for Bavel:
OM: We have a ton of things to improve, and it’s the reason for us to go to work every day. We’re going to tweak things, elevate and change things on the menu. We haven’t even been through all of the seasons yet. Change is something that’s super important to us — we want to serve new dishes, and we want to bring old items back on the menu.