While at a pause in the climactic battle that, according to some estimates, would cause approximately $160 billion in damages to Manhattan at the rousing conclusion of Joss Whedon’s popcorn extravaganza The Avengers, Tony Stark/Iron Man suggests that his crew head out later for some shawarma, that delightful pita wrap, Turkish in origin, of spit-roasted meat with accoutrements such as hummus and hot sauce. This suggestion, more than a lark it turns out (in the obligatory post-credit sequence our heroes can be seen, at length, chowing down on them), reportedly caused a spike in shawarma sales at Ro Ro’s Chicken in Hollywood (per digital trends), and, according to the Hollywood Reporter, at the wonderful neighborhood eatery in Westwood, Sunnin Lebanese Cafe.
Now, what might you ask, makes this loud informal spot, with tinselly decor verging on goofy, at times jam-packed with UCLA students, an Avengers-worthy destination? That would be the extensive menu of authentic, soulfully prepared Lebanese items on their specials menu, like long fingers of stuffed green cabbage, a stunning jade, steamed to velvet and somehow light as air, filled with an herbal-scented mix of rice and tender ground beef, floating in a delicate reduced cooking broth flecked with the same herbs inside the rolls. Or a stew of long simmered lamb shanks, tender and earthy, fused with the vegetal funk of okra and the homey, gently acidic kiss of slow-cooked tomatoes. This is your grandmother’s food. If she were Lebanese. And a fantastic cook.
At Sunnin, the hits just keep coming: hummus that’s creamy and nutty, with just the right hit of garlic, and a tangy, sour note that’s traditional, delicious, and highly addictive, and baba ganoush (roasted eggplant dip), which has a lemony punch that counterbalances the woodsy richness of the unctuous eggplant. These Lebanese versions of classic middle-eastern dishes and the amazing specialties are remarkable for their number as much as their quality, and eating them makes you feel as if you’ve been invited to a friend’s house, and their family wanted to show you the full range of true Lebanese home-cooking. This is the real deal.
Which brings us to the shawarma (beef and chicken are both available), which you will observe rotating slowly on duel vertical spits near the front of the kitchen, the heat slowly melting the fat of the layers and layers of densely packed meat, a long and wondrous self-basting process. Of course you’ll want some, sliced hot off the spit, the edges crisped, the interior moist and succulent, the thin pita underneath sopping the juices. When savoring shawarma like this, you can understand why, after working up an appetite saving the world, the Avengers might be drawn to so luscious a treat.
So, here’s our advice. Get thee to Sunnin with your superhero crew. Order anything and everything off their menu of outstanding, authentic, and hard-to-find Lebanese specialties, which could make you homesick for a place you don’t even come from, and then, for a meaty cherry on top, order two shawarma plates to share (we’re partial to the beef). If it’s good enough for The Avengers…
Sunnin Lebanese Cafe
Authentic Lebanese fare at reasonable prices delights students, locals, and Avengers.
Stuffed cabbage, lamb shanks with okra and tomato, chicken and beef shawarma.
Lively and fun in casual spacious digs.
Knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic.
Festive and clattery at peak times.
1776 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. 310.475.3358
Mon 11:30am-10pm. Tues 11:30am-9:30pm. Sun 11:30am-9:00pm. Credit Cards Accepted. No reservations. Lot parking.
The Avengers – (2012) Directed by Joss Whedon. Screenplay by Joss Whedon. Story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemswormth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel Jackson.