Eager tonight for a Middle Eastern feast, we headed to Sunnin (1776 Westwood Blvd., just north of Santa Monica Blvd.), a casual, affordable, and vegan-friendly Lebanese restaurant near UCLA. For appetizers we ordered tabbouleh, a cracked-wheat salad made with tomato, onion, lemon, and a heap of parsley; spicy potatoes, diced and sautéed to goldenness with garlic, cilantro, and lemon; and perhaps our favorite dish of the evening, fool (sometimes spelled foul), a rich, lemony, and ever so slightly funky mash of fava beans with garlic and olive oil. For an entrée, we chose the falafel plate, which came with moist, flavorful rice; tahini sauce that was tangy, not bitter; a pungent spear of horseradish; and a Lebanese salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a lemon-garlic-mint dressing. Though the slightly spicy, slightly dry fava-based falafel and the reasonably fresh but not quite oven-toasty pitas fell short of their counterparts at Habayit (see June 20 review), Sunnin’s hummus prevailed with its unctuous, lemony thickness and perfect balance between chickpeas and sesame. (Our unsweetened yogurt drink, however, was a bit too sour for us.) Sunnin, it’s true, may not triumph in every category, but for a bold taste of the Levant, it would be fool-ish to pass up this Westwood winner.
Even if you are looking for it, Habayit (11921 Pico Blvd.) is hard to spot, a strip-mall sliver near the 10 freeway. Yet this Glatt Kosher Israeli establishment works wonders with some of the staples of Middle Eastern cuisine. (Thanks again to the L.A. Times for the tip.) Our meal tonight began with a nosh of pickled cabbage and horseradish served with green olives—all fresh, tangy, and not too salty. For an appetizer we had baba ghanoush, a mild and subtly smoky eggplant dip better than any we have experienced in recent memory. Then came our entrées, a pair of falafel platters, which included hummus, tehina, a chopped tomato and cucumber salad, and wonderful hot-from-the-oven pitas. In lesser hands, the salad might have been bland, but the freshness of the ingredients made it flavorful and refreshing. Though the hummus was hard to distinguish from the creamy and slightly bitter sesame-based tehina, they both provided an ideal dip for the falafel. As for those familiar fried balls of mashed chickpeas and spices, Habayit has found a way to give them a golden crunch on the outside while keeping them moist on the inside. With its reliance on freshness and care rather than fat, salt, and garlic, this unpretentious eatery reminded us that sometimes the best vegan meals can be found in places where the word never appears on the menu.