It is not stuffed pizza. There, that’s out of the way. Khachapuri translates from the Georgian (as in the Caucasus near Russia, not the one with Atlanta) to something like curds (cheese) and bread. Other cultures also lay claims to khachapuri. It’s popular as a street food in Armenia, and post-Soviet satellite countries have their versions. Now, khachapuri might be quietly one of the hottest food items in Los Angeles.
The shape of the commonly available version in Southern California is likened to a boat with the crust forming the edges and creating a well into which goes the cheese and any other fillings. The traditional khachapuri is filled or topped with sulguni, a cow’s-milk cheese that is a bit sour and salty. It’s brined and has the nickname “pickle cheese.” Since sulguni is tough to find locally, other salty cheeses, or combinations, can be used. Make it at home with feta and gouda or smoked mozzarella (scamorza).
The cheese gets baked with the dough and, often, the kitchen will add an egg late in the cooking. Make sure the egg whites are white and the yolk still runny. Once served, break off a piece of the crust — ideally starting with the bow and stern of the “boat” — and dunk them into the cheese and egg. Break the eggs and mix everything together.
The modern khachapuri is not limited to the egg-cheese combo. There are numerous toppings available. In fact, there are numerous iterations of khachapuri itself. The basic is Imeretian (or Imeruli), referring to a region in central Georgia. That’s generally round and is made with a simple yeast dough that carries at least the cheese. The boat-shaped ones are Adjarian (or Adjarakan or Ajarski) from the Adjari region in Georgia, and the simple version includes butter in the mix with the cheese(s) and egg.
Here now, five essential khachapuris to try in Los Angeles.
The name says it all, but Tony Khachapuri in Hollywood is housed inside Banh Oui, a Vietnamese sandwich shop. The menu offers six different khachapuri fillings here and five different crust toppings, including “everything” like on an everything bagel. These are boat-shaped crusts, and they’re big and stuffed with a three-cheese mix that remains a secret.
The black truffle option ($15) is essentially the original ($10) cheese, butter, garlic, and egg with bits of truffle mixed into the cheese. There’s a lot of cheese and it’s molten when it arrives at the counter along the front window of the Cahuenga location. One of them had the plain crust, which was very firm on the outside and soft on the inside. The bacon and scallion option ($15) had the same filling, but inside an everything bagel crust. That added a lot of flavor to the experience. Share one of these with at least two other people. (Inside Banh Oui) 1552 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
The dining room at Havlabar is straightforward. A lot of tables and a TV on the wall playing music videos. In response to a question about the language in the songs, the emphatic answer is, “The food is Georgian. The music is Russian.” Havlabar serves the Imeruli version of khachapuri. So, it’s round and comes in three varieties here. The classic ($12), the Imeruli, is topped with a sulguni cheese that is relatively mild; the Megruli ($14) is both topped and stuffed with the sulguni; and the Lobiani ($12) is filled with red kidney beans (the Georgian word for beans is lobio).
The Megruli is the kind of cheese bread that would make a great start to a dinner. A fun dish to share, the crust is very soft and resembles a dinner roll. Havlabar has a fourth offering, “Khachapuri On Grill” ($6). This led to a Goldilocks moment. The puff pastry dough was wrapped around the sulguni, then placed on the grill to cook and brown. Slightly crispy and buttery, this unusual khachapuri is worth a try. 1143 E Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205
Papillon International Bakery
This multi-unit operation was first opened in East Hollywood by Akop “Jack” Torosian. Call in about 20 minutes before arriving at Papillon as each khachapuri is made to order. These are boat-shaped Adjarakan khachapuris and they come in five modes. The original ($12.99) comes with mozzarella and two eggs. Add jalapeños and chives for a dollar more. The tomato scramble ($14.99) is two scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes that was served without the listed jalapeños and chives because “customers don’t like that,” said the woman behind the counter. Just ask them to put it all on. The jalapeños bring everything together inside a very nicely browned, very fresh light crust that was a little bland, but very fluffy. It would be great to dunk in runny egg yolks.
Finally, there are two sweet versions, both including Nutella, a hazelnut spread. One has strawberries and bananas, the second really reaches another level with Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates on it. 17305 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge, CA 91325 (and four other locations). https://papilloninternationalbakery.com
This Armenian bakery in a Glendale strip mall is a test of wills. There are so many different pastries to choose from that the Ajarski khachapouri might be forgotten. It’s available in three sizes. The small has one egg ($7.95), the regular ($9.95) has two, and the large has three eggs ($12.95). Get the small. It’s plenty for one. The cheese mix is mozzarella and feta.
For a dollar more, add toppings like soujouk meat (well-seasoned ground beef), basterma (similar to pastrami), chicken or beef shawarma, labneh, mushrooms and more. Definitely double up on the toppings. The crust here is light and a bit like that of a cracker-crust pizza. The khachapuris are made to order and take about 15 minutes. Order online and have the food ready upon arrival. There are a few tables inside and a couple on the sidewalk to eat the khachapuri immediately. 1250 W Glenoaks Blvd C, Glendale, CA 91201 https://www.sipanbakery.com
A testament to khachapuri’s popularity is the cheese and eggs one at this restaurant in Silver Lake. The owner, Erik Martirosyan, is Armenian and put the dish on the menu full of Neapolitan pizza.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to introduce this to people,” Martirosyan explained. “Doing it in a wood-fired oven is great and it’s crispier than the traditional crust.”
This very shareable boat-shaped khachapuri ($18) uses pizza dough, but it is cooked differently, and longer, than the wood-fired Neapolitan pies. Think of it as a firmer Neapolitan pizza crust. At the end, two organic eggs — with really orange yolks — are cracked onto the mozzarella and feta cheeses and the khachapuri is placed briefly in the almond-wood burning oven to finish. The eggs are cooked just right. The leopard-spotting (charring) typically seen on Neapolitan pizza crusts will be evident. Be sure to request extra feta. 2861 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026 http://woodsilverlake.com/