It wouldn’t be quite fair to say that the Instagram stories of LA’s latest underground food star, Avi Cue, show a slow descent into madness. There’s too much precision in the backyard grill work being done for that. But still ... the flames, the obsession, the climbing smoke and falling rivulets of rendered fat over coals. There’s real mad scientist-meets-Dante’s Inferno vibes on the page, except instead of hell, it’s Sherman Oaks.
Avi Cue (as he’s known to his fans, though his real name is Aviad Yalin) is an Israeli-born meat connoisseur, known for his audacious displays of thick, fat-speckled bone-in chops, for smoked oxtail pulled off the bone and piled over freshly made hummus, and for an emerging series of shawarma pop-ups that use decadent wagyu beef on the slow-spinning spit.
Yalin’s first shawarma event, done inside of Slab on West Third Street, sold out basically as soon as it began, while another pandemic-era pop-up at Beverly Hills Jewish deli the Nosh had a line down the block. Since then Yalin has shaved meat into pitas at the famed Yamashiro in Hollywood as part of a deal with Off the Menu, and he’s got even more audacious plans for the near future. Now, if you’ll excuse him for just one moment, he has to go turn his marrow bones, pull out his just-crispy falafel, and check on his stuffed and smoked pitas, known in Lebanon as arayes, before they get too crispy.
“My family has always cooked outside,” says Yalin, who grew up in Israel with a farmer father and lots Lebanese and Syrian neighbors around, sharing in communal meals. He’s always been fascinated by whole animal cooking and working outdoors. “[I was] always standing by the fire, asking questions, even at six years old.”
A spontaneous trip to the United States led to a life here, landing in the San Fernando Valley among the city’s prodigious Israeli and Jewish population. Cooking meat and hosting friends remained a hobby, but it wasn’t until Yalin sold his business as an importer and installer of custom home cabinets — a job he says he left as a result of President Trump’s tariff escalations with China — that he became fascinated and singularly focused on grilling and smoking meat.
Today his backyard setup looks like an ad hoc sculpture garden. Coolers overflow with various cuts, and nearby a heavy metal pan on a stand is shadowed above by a grill grate that can be adjusted up or down for maximum closeness to the flames. A box smoker, a Santa Maria-style grill, and a horizontal offset smoker (the door’s opening handle is a hatchet, naturally) all sit side by side on a trailer; a butcher block table in the grass holds the spread.
Friends like Yeastie Boys’s Evan Fox or Burt Bakman of Trudy’s Underground Barbecue and Slab pass through, some staying for the night, others for just a bite. It’s all captured on Instagram stories for fun, though there’s an undeniable “you weren’t at the party” feel when everyone starts posting steak photos at the same time.
Yalin insists that the real byproduct of the backyard sessions isn’t FOMO, it’s the information he gleans. He’s always tweaking techniques and working with different purveyors to score new product, from pita to tahini to ground beef. “I don’t make it just to look nice,” he says, “I just think that it’s the right way of cooking. When I have passion for something, I love to just to put in those hours and get that experience. If you do one steak, or a hundred steaks, that hundredth steak will look so much better.”
Now Yalin is ready to expand his repertoire, and his social circle, with an upcoming series of shawarma pop-ups around the city. He has been teasing one event for days, to be held on October 28 in the outside parking lot patio at West Hollywood hit Delilah. Yalin will be setting up his slow-spinning wagyu spit and shaving for expected crowds starting at 6 p.m., with the restaurant providing the seating, the drinks, and everything else.
“It’s the food I eat the most,” Yalin says of shawarma in general, particularly when he’s back in Israel, though he admits the wagyu version is a bit of ostentation borne out of his own carnivorous curiosity. “The first ones I did, they were not so good,” he says of his time cooking before landing on high-priced Australian wagyu cuts, prized in places like Brazil for its intensity and richness. “It has a lot of meat flavor, not quite as much fat or crazy marbling like the Japanese wagyu,” he says, but enough to power through a heavy scoop of tahini and spicy Iraqi amba. Yalin admits that sometimes all this meat can be too rich even for him, but pushing boundaries is part of the fun.
Next month, Avi Cue will tackle its biggest stage yet: the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s), right on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It will be Yalin’s largest single showcase as a budding food personality, and another collaboration between the owners of Yamashiro, Avi Cue, and the Off the Menu team. The plan is to grow that event, and future ones, as big as possible in anticipation of opening a restaurant somewhere in the Valley, perhaps as soon as next year.
In the meantime, Yalin is back in his yard, shredding oxtail and turning steaks in the glow of an evening flame. It’s not madness, he insists, it’s passion — and it’s perfect for Instagram.