Delicious Meats on Sticks in Los Angeles

Beef kebab | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Beef kebab | Photo by Clarissa Wei

The term shish kebab is quite literal. Derived from Turkish, it translates to "pieces of meat roasted on a spit." It's said by some that the delicacy was born over the open fires kindled by the Turkic tribes that first invaded Anatolia. Swords were used to grill the meats as the tribes pushed west from Central Asia.

Meat on skewers is now prolific throughout the world, seen on Chinese, Persian, Armenian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Brazilian menus. Just for a start. Traditionally, on the Turkish end, marinated chunks of lamb are grilled over a fire and suspended by a skewer holder. Marinades include yogurt, oil, lemon, and various spices.

Today, I think the term kebab isn't specific or unique to any one particular culture anymore. It's simply meat on sticks, a comfort food that exists for clear evenings and maybe a can of beer of two.

Here's a guide to the best places to get grilled meat on a stick:

Raffi's Place
Located in Glendale, Raffi's is a Persian-Armenian favorite with a grand dining room decorated with artistic flourishes on the walls. You'll see families gathered here for their weekly dose of meat and rice. Service is speedy once you sit down, though there's sometimes a line. Kebabs come with a giant plate of seasoned rice and grilled tomatoes; it's more than enough for one person. They're beloved for the kabab koobideh, which is simply ground and spiced meat. The barg -- either chunks of beef tenderloin or lamb shank -- are great and hearty as well. 211 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205; (818) 240-7411.


Adana Kebabs | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Adana Kebabs | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Adana is a family-style Iranian (with hints of Armenian) restaurant, selling wonderful platters of meat, yogurts, and aromatic saffron-laced rice with orange peels. All of the sides are great, but the star here is the kebabs -- large portions, evenly marinated, always tender. The chicken is a crowd favorite, though beef and lamb are also offered. For the meat, quality is the driving force of Adana. Nothing is stringy, everything is full of juice and bite. Pair it all with a side of their creamy cucumber yogurt. 6918 San Fernando Road, Glendale, CA 91201; (818) 843-6237.


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Feng Mao Mutton Kebab
This Chinese barbecue restaurant is all about grilled meats on skewers and there's no shortage of types of meats you can cook yourself. The menu lists the typical cuts of chicken, beef, and pork, but what really sets Feng Mao apart from the pack is their hefty selection of offal. There are kidneys, intestines, gizzard, hearts, and be prepared -- penises. It's a DIY affair; each table is equipped with a grill. 3901 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles 90019; (323) 935-1099.


Thumbnail image for Dollars Hits | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Dollars Hits | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Dollar Hits Food Truck
This food truck is a ton of fun. Perched off to the side of a very rundown strip mall, it's truly a party on wheels. Music is blasted as a group of Filipino aunties manage crowds and sell $1 skewers from their truck. There are grills set up all around the sidewalk where patrons can re-heat their purchases. Menu items are offal-heavy and include skewers of congealed blood, pork and chicken intestines, liver, and hearts. There's even balut (fertilized duck eggs). 2422 Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90057.


Brazilian BBQ | Photo by Fogo De Chao
Brazilian BBQ | Photo by Fogo De Chao

Fogo De Chao
The Brazilian steakhouse is called a churrascaria, a word that translates to "house of barbecue." No other place is as popular or beloved for this as Fogo De Chao. The history of Brazilian barbecue goes back to the gauchos of southern Brazil, whose job was to herd cattle from one state to another. They would build a fire pit in the ground and grill their meat rotisserie-style. At the restaurant, waiters known as passadores march around the restaurant with huge swords run through large chunks of meats. Their job: to hand-carve the cuts and make you feel like royalty. 133 N La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA; (310) 289-7755.

Hayat's Kitchen
This Lebanese gem evenly marinates and nicely charbroils chicken, beef, and lamb kebabs. The chicken is the star dish here. Ask for the garlic sauce on the side, to go with your hummus and salad. If you're torn between sides, go for the garlic fries -- they're thick and addictive. It's a lot of garlic, so maybe hold off on bringing a first date over here. 1009 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601; (818) 761-4656.


Exterior | Photo by Alexander's Greek Kitchen
Exterior | Photo by Alexander's Greek Kitchen

Alexander's Greek Kitchen
Located in Vernon and owned by two brothers in their early 20s, Alexander's is a Greek eatery with a number of gyros and skewers on their menu. Kebab-wise, their selections include pork, veggie, beef, and lamb skewers all served over fluffy pieces of pita. Eat it with a side of their cool tzatziki sauce, and wash it down with a bottle of their vintage-looking cane sugar soda. 3632 S Soto St, Vernon, CA 90058; (323) 586-0201.

Japanese "kebabs" are usually known as yakitori, referring to bite-sized meat grilled over charcoal and skewered on bamboo sticks. The meat is then dressed with salt or basted with yuzu or a sweet soy sauce. Torimatsu in Gardena is an understated spot that does just that and one of the few places where the owner is consistently behind a grill, one imported straight from Japan. Items to target: the chicken meatballs, chicken liver, and chicken heart. 1425 Artesia Blvd., Gardena, CA 90248; (310) 538-5764.

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