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Cheap Eats: Greek & Middle Eastern

Icon by Peter Hoey

Falafel Arax
Tucked in a minimall in the Little Armenia enclave of Hollywood, Falafel Arax has dished out authentic kabobs and soujouk (sausage) sandwiches for a quarter-century. A plate of five crispy, golf-ball-size falafel comes with a fresh green salad smothered in creamy tahini sauce. Strips of beef shawarma are so rich they’re almost caramelized on the spit. The side of hummus is the best we’ve found—a silky blend of garbanzo beans and high-quality olive oil. Cash only. » 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 2, Hollywood, 323-663-9687.

Firehouse Restaurant 
Tendrils of fake ivy curl up the blue-and-white walls at this Tarzana stalwart, where the hummus sports firm bits of fresh—never canned—chickpeas. Falafel disks, flecked with the green of fresh herbs, are dense with flavor, not with oil. Gamey chunks of lamb in the souvlaki achieve just the right meat-to-fat ratio. Garlic is doled out with restraint here—not so at some other Greek favorites. With an entrée plate and multiple sides for around $11, we say opa! » 18450 Victory Blvd., Tarzana, 818-881-3118.

Nagila Pizza
This Israeli pizzeria is known for kosher pies with an especially crisp crust and the well-stocked falafel plate, which delivers six deep-fried, spicy balls of chickpeas and herbs, a salad of finely chopped cucumber, tomato, and red onion, plus hummus, tahini, and puffy pita. » 9411 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 310-788-0111. 

Open Sesame
This spiffy Lebanese restaurant—dripping with romantic hanging lanterns—has been serving delicious pita sandwiches like the kafta (ground beef and lamb) wrap in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach for ten years. The chicken shawarma plate is a fan favorite, with fresh hummus and crunchy cucumber pickles. » 5215 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, 562-621-1698. 

Papa Cristo’s
Every Thursday Papa Cristo’s hosts a family-style feast with gyrating belly dancers. But this 61-year-old Greek market and restaurant serves Mediterranean staples like sizzling feta, sour dolmas, grilled octopus, roasted lamb, and tsipoura (imported Greek sausage) at classical prices any day of the week. Ask Papa Cristo (he’s almost always there) to add one of those vinegary, blow-your-head-off peppers to your gyro for extra twang. » 2771 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 323-737-2970. 

Pita! Pita! 
At this family-friendly Lebanese spot, the expansive open kitchen takes just minutes to dish up entrées like tender chicken, lamb, and lula (beef) kabobs and chicken shawarma with a lemony hummus. While the falafel-stuffed pita is thick and satisfying, it’s the pita chips that are addictive. » 927 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-0106. 

Shamshiri Grill 
From the complimentary warm pita with fresh mint, radishes, and onion to the massive beef shawarma platter with saffron-speckled rice and choice of salad (the tabbouleh is a winner), this notable Persian spot is all about abundance and elegance. A trickling indoor fountain and a lovely patio help set the mood; so does the exotic shirin polo—rice with almonds, pistachios, orange peel, carrots, and a saffron-marmalade sauce. » 1712 Westwood Blvd., L.A., 310-474-1410.

Skaf’s Grill
Succulent shish kebab (two skewers of rib eye) is a meaty value at this tiny Lebanese standout, and the fattoush salad (a mix of greens and pieces of toasted pita) gets a pop from a sumac-flavored dressing. The hummus here is whipped smooth, and the creamy garlic sauce is bliss. » 6008 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-985-5701; 367 N. Chevy Chase Dr., Glendale, 818-551-5540.

Zankou Chicken 
Angelenos’ love affair with this Armenian chain goes back decades, and the original Hollywood location—like the ten other bustling outposts—can’t serve the crowds fast enough. A half chicken plate with hummus, pita, tomato, garlic sauce, and pickled turnips goes for under $10, while a shawarma sandwich with similar fixings will cost you $6. The famous garlic sauce is as much a beacon as the flavorful poultry. » 5065 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, 323-665-7842. Also in Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Los Feliz, Montebello, Pasadena, Tarzana, Van Nuys, and West L.A.