The Eye of Horus is a mythic symbol of protection in Egypt and used to watch over pharaohs in the afterlife. The eye with a bright blue iris has also been connected to the goddess Wadjet and now stands sentinel outside El Mahroosa, overlooking three pyramids in the logo and flanking the entrance to this exciting Egyptian restaurant and hookah lounge in Anaheim’s Little Arabia.
In keeping with the Eye of Horus logo, El Mahroosa translates from Arabic as “The Protected.” The restaurant’s website tells an elaborate story about a yacht by that name that dates to 1869 and still navigates the Suez Canal. Egypt certainly isn’t lacking for history or stories. The bottom line: all this lore is tied up here in time-tested Egyptian comfort food.
Samir Elshahed opened this restaurant five years ago in Little Arabia, a pan-Arab community that sprouted west of Disneyland in the 1980s and has grown in size and scope ever since. The neighborhood continues to welcome more Egyptian restaurants, befitting an Egyptian-American community that’s 7,000 people strong, and El Mahroosa is a great place to start exploring the nation’s bold cuisine.
The restaurant’s sprawling menu showcases dishes that span in the Arabic diaspora, including dips, falafel, kabobs, and heaping platters of well-spiced rice with chicken or lamb. Still, a handful of uniquely Egyptian dishes warrants a detour to El Mahroosa.
Hamam mahshy ($25.99) is one of the most enticing “Mahroosa specials.” A roasted pigeon with rich dark meat and bronzed skin comes stuffed with glutinous rice that’s folded with toasted vermicelli strands. Tiny organ meats no larger than pencil erasers deliver pops of outsized flavor. A dusting of parsley and a squeeze of lemon add brightness.
Each pigeon plate comes with more rice and a pair of soups: a simple broth with onion and tomato, and molokhia, a bright green soup with a naturally slimy texture from chopped jute leaves, sourced from a fibrous plant that can also be harvested to make twine.
House-made beef sausages called mombar ($14.99) come with natural casings that span the width of a grown man’s index finger. They’re stuffed with ground beef, rice, herbs and beguiling spices that seem to include clove. Each order of crisp-skinned sausages come with iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad in light vinaigrette to tame the richness.
Hawawshi ($11.99) are similar to a Lebanese dish called arayes. In this case, juicy ground beef and lamb join onions and warming spices inside pita bread. Two soft discs are char-grilled until crispy outside and served with cooling cucumber yogurt showered with more chopped parsley. Yes, chopped parsley is a popular garnish at El Mahroosa, but never feels redundant.
Kushari ($12.99), sometimes spelled koshari or koshary, is a veritable mountain of rice, macaroni and green lentils topped with a blizzard of sweet, crispy fried onions. El Mahroosa normally slathers this carb-tastic dish with “special” tomato sauce, but they ran out of sauce. Instead, they subbed hot sauce, which still worked well. My server warned, “Watch out, it’s very hot.” The flame-red sauce still contained chile seeds, but delivered medium heat at most. They also supply a dish of dga [da-ga] a cloudy slurry of lime juice and chopped garlic that further tempers an otherwise heavy dish.
A dessert called om ali ($7.99) filled a big clay bowl, but turned out to be surprisingly light, and not too sweet. This remarkable bread pudding is baked to order with creamy custard and a lacy, golden-brown lid. The toppings are a big part of this dessert’s fun, including powdery coconut shavings, crushed pistachios, toasted almonds, crushed walnuts and sultanas.
El Mahroosa features an airy front dining area for quick bites and a covered patio with corrugated metal roof designed for longer sessions that could include hookah smoking. Egyptian songs stream on flat-screen TVs thanks to YouTube. Framed photos and paintings of Egypt provide more reasons for Egyptians to feel homesick. Good thing the plates and bowls that emerge from the kitchen have healing powers. The Eye of Horus makes sure of it.
El Mahroosa, 930 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, 714.991.9200