Anaheim’s Little Arabia was built on the Pavlovian power of charred kebabs and crisp falafel. For years, diners could carom among the neighborhood’s best restaurants and happily consume nothing but those blackened skewers of meat and fragrant fritters. Yet as the community has matured, so have its tastes. A growing cast of wonderful regional restaurants and bakeries now wrestle for claim to the neighborhood’s best manakeesh, glorious pizzalike flatbreads from the Levant region.
The flatbreads take minutes to cook. Each man’oushe (the singular of manakeesh) is rolled out from a ball of dough to about the size of a personal pizza before it’s dressed with assorted toppings, maybe a layer of seasoned ground meat or a scattering of cheese and herbs. It’s then slid into a superheated oven until the edges blacken and the dough swells and bubbles. In Lebanon, the variety drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with zaatar, a spice blend that usually includes oregano, thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds, is a popular breakfast. Here in Little Arabia, these thin pies are good at all hours.
At Forn Al Hara, the spinach man’oushe is the way to go. Once it emerges from the oven, the flatbread is blanketed with soft akkawi cheese, then heaped with fresh baby spinach. Consider it the Arab equivalent of a pizza piled high with arugula.
Al Sanabel Bakery makes a very good sphiha shamia: a flatbread layered with spicy ground beef, tart pomegranate syrup, and yogurt. There’s also Al Amir Bakery’s simple-but-full-flavored flatbread with zaatar and cheese.
Each bakery offers roughly a dozen different manakeesh, at about $2.50 per pie. Although they’re not pizzas per se, they offer the same pleasures: a gently singed crust, and an array of toppings.
Forn Al Hara
512 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, 714-758-3777
Al Sanabel Bakery
816 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, 714-635-4353 alsanabelbakery.com
Al Amir Bakery
2281 W. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-535-0973 alamirbakery.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
Don’t miss our dining guide with minireviews of 160-plus restaurants and more dining news. See The List
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.