How to find good Iranian food

I hardly ever blog Iran, most of all because I’ve never been there, but perhaps the time has come to serve up the meager amount I do know about the place.  Let’s start with food, here are a few propositions about Iranian food, at least as it is found in the West:

1. Choose a restaurant which has a diversity of rices, such as zereskh polo (rice with barberries).  Or sour cherry rice.  The rice you order is a more important decision than the kabob you order.  Personally, I like to commit the heresy of loading up a tart rice with a gooey yogurt concoction, such as Mast-o-Mosir, spellings on that one will vary greatly.

2. Choose a restaurant with koreshes, namely stews.  The kabobs get boring, Afghan kabobs in this country are usually better anyway, so over time you should end up getting the stews in a Persian restaurant.

3. It is very hard to find Iranian restaurants in the United States which break from the usual medley of offerings.  The good news is that there are very few bad Iranian restaurants around.

4. The best Iranian restaurants in this country are probably those in and near Westwood, Los Angeles, not far from UCLA.

5. If you get Iranian bread, it looks boring.  But load it up with the spicy green sauce, butter, and yes sliced onion.  Then it’s really yummy.  Don’t be put off if your bread shows up cold and embedded in plastic wrap, just add the condiments and it will be yummy.

6. I always like the soups, but in this country opt for “minty” over “barley.”

7. Iranian food in Germany and London is also quite good, I don’t think I have had it elsewhere.

8.  Buying fesenjan sauce out of a can and cooking with it is much tastier than you might think.  This is super-easy and inexpensive.  Fesenjan sauce, in case you don’t know, is a kind of walnut and pomegranate mix, for you vegans it works OK with tofu.

9. At the end of writing this post, my own googling led me to a 2009 post I had written on the same topic but had forgotten about completely, it is here if you wish to compare.  If nothing else, it shows my views on Iranian food are pretty consistent over time, as is the food itself.


I thought we agreed years ago that "yummy" is up there with "hubby" among words not to be used.

Attari Sandwich Shop in the Westwood area you describe is an absolute must try lunch spot.

Yes to this. Their tongue sandwich is first rate.

Best traditional persian restaurant in the LA area is Raffi's place in Glendale.

the problem is that the emigre community who escaped the revolution were too well-educated to particularly want to open the kind of earnest homestyle restaurants that you gravitate towards. you really need a good mix of lower class immigrants to cook authentically and middle class immigrants to keep their restaurants honest. the upper middle and upper class ones would probably rather assimilate their palates, if they didn't back home already.

For vegan khoresht fesenjan (stew) I would suggest sticking to kadoo (zucchini, squash, pumpkin, etc.) and gharch (mushrooms -- sometimes dried Iranian ones can be found in middle eastern stores) as the "meat" of the dish. If you're willing to go in the asian direction somewhat then a good mushroom is the king trumpet mushroom (can be found at Korean grocery or Japanese grocery stores--sometimes chinese) or a king oyster mushroom. The best guide is probably king trumpet mushrooms are more "chickeny" and king oyster mushrooms are "beefier". So with fesenjan I prefer the trumpet mushrooms but others may prefer king oyster mushrooms.

Also throw some toasted, smoked pistachios on top.

My Iranian wife recommends loobya pullo as a dish that she has never seen an American not like. It's a mixture of basmati rice, with small pieces of seasoned lamb and green beans in a tomato-paste-based sauce, with saffron throughout. She's even OK with your suggestion of canned fesunjoon sauce - she's never had it, but she says that she can see how it could work. That's in great, stark contrast to many of the other canned/jarred Iranian mixtures on the market these days (the California-based Sadaf company is particularly big in this area). Showing her a jar of Sadaf's ghormeh sabzi in a store is a reliable way for me to make her shive.

That's a good dish, but it's particularly painful to cook well. It's a casserole of lamb and red kidney beans in a green-colored sauce, but the recipe for that sauce starts out something like "Carefully remove every bit of stem from a big pile of parsley. Now do the same for a good-sized pile of fenugreek. And a fair amount of cilanto. And prepare a big bunch of what looks sort of like Chinese chives. All of these have to be fresh, and tediously "dry-fried" in a way that makes sure that you avoid the twin errors of burnt herbs or soggy sliminess. It has a pronounced sour flavor (an Iranian favorite) from the use of dried limes. My wife's mother won't let her even make it: "Oh no, I'll do that, let me do that, I'll make you some, I'll bring it over next time I come?"

Note that Iranian food can be highly regional and even family-specific, much like Indian food or barbecue in the southern US. Great hand-waving disputes can erupt between Iranians of different background about what the "real" version of any given dish might be. Just look at the comments online to any recipe for ghormeh sabzi that has garlic in it, and see what people have to say about it.

I agree with you about the kebabs - they're excellent, but not something that you want to do every single time you eat Iranian food. The big three are chello kebab, kebab-e-kubideh, and jujeh kebab. "Chello" is rice, and that dish is a bunch of basmati rice with saffron, and a bunch of beef tenderloin kebabs - marinated in onions and some lime juice and salt, then grilled over flames while being brushed with butter and saffron. The kubideh is a spiced ground meat mixture with some onion ground into it, often a mixture of beef and lamb. It can be very good, or it can come out like meat loaf on a stick if made indifferently. And jujeh kebab is chicken, marinated again in onions, lime juice, and salt, and grilled while being brushed with saffron. It's really good stuff, and not hard to make, and I keep thinking that someone should make a big thing out of it in a fast-food way. My wife rolls her eyes at that one.

Moby Dick, baby. Moby Dick.

Yeah, Moby Dick is the sort of thing I had in mind! (For those who haven't been to the DC area, it's a small chain of Iranian kebab places, and they do a pretty good job). My wife's take is that there are so many Iranians in the DC metro area that it works, but that there's no way you could do it in a lot of other places. I still think it would work, but having a local community certainly would help with getting things off the ground.

Re: "...small pieces of seasoned lamb..."

Some Americans don't like lamb, even if mixed with other ingredients with wonderful, strong flavors.

Its not just Americans who don't like lamb, many south-east Asians won't eat it either. I don't understand this antipathy to lamb, it doesn't seem all that different in taste to beef for me. My wife claims it is seen as a peasant or trash food by many, people ate lamb and goat when they couldn't afford beef. But chicken is still popular.

Stop supporting terrorism, Tyler.

I second the suggestion of Raffi's Place in Glendale, CA (the best Persian kabobs I've ever had).

In the DMV area, Shamshiry is king and Moby Dick isn't even in the conversation.

My Iranian friends like Shamshiri in Vienna, VA.

CNTRL + F "kefir" = no hits?! ("Kefir, keefir, or kephir (/kəˈfir/ kə-FEER),[1][2] alternatively milk kefir, or búlgaros, is a fermented milk drink made with kefir "grains" (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter) and has its origins in the north Caucasus Mountains.[3] It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains.[4] Traditional kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed.[5])

Nothing like a cold glass of kefir on a hot summer day!

I've never heard of kefir characterized as a Persian drink. I'd call it Russian before Persian, and even that's a stretch.

Perhaps you're confusing it with doogh?

it's drunk in iran, but as a regional drink in the north. Doogh is served everywhere.

You allow them to bring cold bread? There are some savagel creative Persian words to describe such an atrocity. Try tadik with fesenjan and you haven't lived until you have had veal fesenjan, shukraAllah.

Shiraz in Karlsruhe is OK - but really, another post concerning Iranian food without mentioning the concept of tadiq?

Which I first enjoyed at GMU in the later 1980s, prepared by an Iranian student named Shadan. A very happy experience, all round.

(Full credit to Prof. Tabarrok pointing out that lack in that earlier post, though.)

The best Persian food is in Naples, FL.

I lived in Westwood area of L.A. for 22 years. I doubt if it has the best of anything.

Don't go past The Blue Nile for Chicken Biryani if you're ever in Pune: [the restaurant is hundreds of years old] NB Chicken Biryani a Persian dish

Have you tried Royal Palace Kabob on Little River Turnpike? In spite of the "kabob" in the name, I don't think it will disappoint you. This is the place that confirmed to me that embracing the onions is key.

Tyler doesn't like desserts but Bastani, Persian ice cream made with saffron and rose water is wonderful. There are also some great Persian ice cream places in Westwood.

The best Iranian places that I've been to (in or near Glendale, just north of Los Angeles) seemed to be Armenian rather than Persian. Or maybe I should say Armenian-Iranian, because they weren't the same as other Armenian restaurants which were closer to generic Middle Eastern. I.e. there may be regional and/or ethnic sub-categories of Iranian cuisine -- and Armenian as well.

Raffis place is Armenian too!

WOW! eating Iranian this week while last week we provided air support to fight with them against ISIL and fought against them with the Saudis all while our justice department fined Schlumberger $232.7M for helping them (and N. Sudan) with oil services.

Oh yeah, this is a new week. We got a framework with them now.

When will our medicine for schizophrenia kick in Tyler?

آره (means YEAH in Farsi)!!!

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