In 2011, Mini Kabob chef-owner Armen Martirosyan wrote up a business plan to open a restaurant in the Casbah Cafe space. It was a different time in Silver Lake with mostly mom-and-pop businesses and longtime residents watching their neighborhood rapidly change. This was four years before Casbah closed and when Silver Lake was in the midst of new residents and big money entering the fold. The 24-year-old Martirosyan thought, “I always wanted to be in Silver Lake. But I didn’t have money and rent was $10,000 per month at that time. It was about timing.”
Martirosyan’s vision materializes on Monday, January 29 as MidEast Tacos opens in the former Mh Zh. The corner space rests on a key corner of Maltman and Sunset Boulevard near bustling hotspots like Pine & Crane, Bacari, and Millie’s Cafe. Locals have long wondered what would replace the popular Mh Zh, which closed in 2020. MidEast Tacos will merge Mexican and Middle Eastern flavors with an LA touch. It joins several current and former Smorgasburg vendors to open permanent restaurants, such as Lei’d Cookies and Saucy Chick Goat Mafia.
The combination of Middle Eastern with Mexican flavors has a long documented history with regional cultures like Lebanese or Palestinians migrating into Mexico throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This produced some notable foods such as the kebab-influenced tacos al pastor or tacos arabes. But at MidEast Tacos, there’s a more contemporary diaspora at play. This is Los Angeles, after all, so the owners brought their family histories, local ingredients, and expanded the previous Smorgasburg menu.
After his great-grandmother departed Armenia, Martirosyan’s grandparents were both born in Egypt. Egyptian-style falafel traditionally uses fava beans. Martirosyan uses the same techniques as his grandma but with chickpeas, so these falafel are a bit lighter than the ones typically seen in LA. MidEast Tacos partner Aram Kavoukjian’s grandparents settled in Greece after Armenia. Naturewell Vegan Juice & Smoothies owners and MidEast Tacos partners Tina Yeretsian and Vahe Mikhail hail from Lebanon. Matirosyan incorporated many of those influences into the menu with tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and salsas.
As for the meats, Martirosyan will utilize his skill over the grill with an Armenian shish kebab barbecue called a khorovats. Any dish can be made with steak, falafel, chicken, or shrimp. For the steak, he uses shoulder petite tender or teres major for tenderness. Sides include tortilla chips with fire-roasted pico de gallo, guacamole, and crispy fries with Aleppo pepper served with a creamy and garlicky slightly red toum-arbol sauce. Martirosyan’s salsas feel more traditional to LA with the aforementioned pico and toum arbol, plus a rojo that packs heat and an avocado salsa.
The team uses eco-friendly containers, non-GMO tortillas from Tortillas Mejorado, locally-picked Thai basil, and Rocker Bros meats. Try not to miss the mural on the Maltman Street side by artist Jayson Valencia, which represents the partners’ culture with an Armenian cross-stone called a khachkar accented with colors and tones that also represent LA’s sizeable Latinx community.
It’s been quite a journey for Martirosyan. He joined the family business with Mini Kabob in 2014 when he left a restaurant management job. “It hasn’t been easy,” says Martirosyan. “Growing up was a little difficult being an immigrant kid in this country, but MidEast Tacos was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The learning curves, taking Mini Kabob from where it was to where it is now, and taking MidEast Tacos to a brick-and-mortar. I want to have a better life for my wife, parents, and family. That’s why I do all of this.”
MidEast Tacos hours are Monday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 3536 Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake, CA, 90026.