6 Foods To Order At The Armenian Bakery

When folks visit Los Angeles for the first time, I always recommend an Armenian bakery.

I think about this Anthony Bourdain video a lot, when he was asked (by Insider Tech, randomly) a very open-ended question: What should people eat when visiting New York City? Like most of Bourdain's interviews, the man just refuses to phone it in. Instead, he gives a thoughtful, eloquent answer that illuminates what's so special about traveling and eating.

"Ask yourself what any traveler should ask going anywhere for the first time: What do they do there that is unique to that place, that they inarguably do better than anyone else in the world?" Bourdain says. "What are we the best at? What do we have that you definitely do not have?"

I often ruminate on this eating philosophy when doling out food recommendations in Los Angeles. What do I love about this city? What will I miss when I eventually move? What can I get here now that I know I'm not getting in other cities? One clear answer: Armenian baked goods.

Armenian food is hard to pin down exactly, in part because survivors of the Armenian genocide were displaced a century ago; the cuisine thus collaborates and overlaps with many different countries throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Los Angeles (specifically Glendale) has the largest Armenian population in the United States, so it stands to reason that while you're here you have to eat Armenian food, and I would start with the bakery.

These bakeries are a gift to Angelenos across the city, providing handheld savory breads and pastries on par with other iconic, inexpensive, ready-in-seconds foods like pizza and hot dogs. Most of these businesses can be found in the neighborhoods of Glendale and Little Armenia.

I have lived in or near Little Armenia for the past five years, and I've also been very broke in the past, so I feel acquainted enough with these bakeries to speak about what makes them so rad. I've produced this guide for anybody who might be visiting Los Angeles and wants to try some food that they probably aren't getting anywhere else. So here are six things you'll most often find at the Armenian bakery, and why you should order them.

Lahmajun

Also sometimes spelled lahmacun, this baked flatbread is topped with a minced beef spread and usually hovers around two dollars. Lahmajun is often described as an "Armenian pizza" because it's an oven-baked circle of crispy yet chewy bread topped with a tomato-based meat puree. (That thin layer of meat sauce usually consists of tomato paste, onion, bell pepper, and parsley.) Since lahmajun spans many different Middle Eastern countries, there are plenty of iterations of this classic savory flatbread, and while it's rare to see cheese on top, some people do it. At these old school bakeries, it's usually all served the same way, and they all taste quite similar.

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Why you should get lahmajun: It's cheap, filling, and has a wonderful undercarriage to it. The bottom is crispy, but you can still fold it up and eat it like a good slice of pizza. I mean, this is pizza, in that it's perfect handheld food.

Manakish

Another Armenian flatbread "pizza" here; this one subs meat with a ton of herbs and citrus. Manakish comes loaded with a coarse spread of za'atar and oil that's full of tangy flavor. Expect a lot of oregano, thyme, sumac, onion, and sesame seed with a manakish. The bakery I frequent most here in LA, Taron, serves its manakish with a noticeable amount of lemon. The bread is a tad bit different than a lahmajun, less crispy and more doughy. That means it's great at soaking up all that herby oil spread.

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Why you should get manakish: It's bread loaded with herbs and lemon for two dollars. If you love assertive flavors or dipping bread in oil, this is the move.

Börek

Böreks span many different countries, so you'll see it spelled differently depending on the bakery you frequent. It's börek in Turkey, boureki in Greece, and bourekas in Israel. Here in Little Armenia, though, I see it sold as either beorek or börek. These are flaky dough triangles enveloping a stuffing of potatoes, spinach, cabbage, or cheese, then baked or fried. In some places, they look just like a fried pierogi. In others, they're square or angular. Typically they're made from a puff-pastry-style dough, but that's not a constant, either. (Keep in mind that a lot of Armenian food is fluid.) Whatever form they take, börek are always buttery, relatively flaky, and filling. If I want to spend six bucks and feel stuffed, this is my go-to. Spinach börek in particular is lovely and tart.

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Why you should get börek: It's savory stuffed pastry dough brushed with oil and butter. What's not to love? Plus, it's guaranteed to eradicate your hangover.

Piroshki

Like a börek, only more substantial and chewy. Piroshki are Russian and Ukrainian, and in some of the more Russian-centric Armenian joints, you'll see piroshki—though you have to know where to look for them. Most Armenian bakeries here tend to lean Turkish, but I get piroshki frequently at Karabagh Meat Market, where they are loaded onto sheet trays and kept behind the counter for easy sale. Piroshki are long, sometimes flaky stuffed breads that almost always come filled with cabbage, potato, spinach, or meat. My tip: Get the ones filled with meat. Every time I've had a meat piroshki I have not been let down. At Karabagh, the meat piroshki feature a juicy mixture of deliciously seasoned beef, onion, and garlic that satisfies in the afternoon, or even in the morning with a coffee.

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Why you should get piroshki: To experience the melding of Armenian culture with eastern Europe.

Tahini Cookie

Most of the bakeries around here do a version of a tahini cookie, and most of them aren't very good. These cookies are quite large, often comically so, like a giant lollipop. The tahini cookie is quite simply a mixture of tahini, sugar, dough, and that's about it. They're pretty bland, though at Sasoun Bakery the cookie is dusted in granulated sugar, and as a result, it's a better cookie.

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Why you should get the tahini cookie: It's a fixture at such bakeries, so you should grab one on your first visit. Honestly, you can pretty much skip it after that.

Speciality Pastries

My aforementioned favorite Armenian bakery in Los Angeles, Taron, does a spicy cheese börek the size of my forearm and I don't know another place in town that does it this way. It's stuffed with a dry cheese that reminds me of feta or halloumi, and a piquant, mildly spicy red pepper. It's spicy, cheesy, filling, and, again, the size of my forearm. It comes brushed with oil as well, so there's a delicious, fatty sheen to the whole thing. I always tell people to order the spicy cheese börek—it's everything I love about the Armenian bakery. Grab a rich and tangy yogurt milk from the drink cooler or a taragon lemonade for the full experience. Every bakery seems to do at least one thing the others don't, which makes for great exploration.

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