>> Monasaba | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday 25 June 2021


YEMEN ๐Ÿ‡พ๐Ÿ‡ช
Courtesy of Monasaba/Google Maps.

COVID-19 UPDATE: The newly-opened restaurant is fully open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Busy Beach Blvd. may not be the first place in the Southland that you would think you could find architectural details common in Yemen, but opening the doors of an otherwise nondescript building in Stanton is a welcome reward. Colorful stained glass panels called qamariya share wall space with large photographs of Yemen's markets and islands while traditional fabrics are used for upholstery.

So far it seems as though not that many people have discovered this new pleasure in their midst, as the dining room is for the most part empty despite the state re-opening fully. This newest branch of Monsaba is the first in the US, after two have established themselves in Toronto.

Monasaba presents itself as a fast-casual restaurant, orders are made at the counter before sitting down. But the hospitality levels are on point despite of this, and of course many of these dishes require slow cooking so there is a lot of preparation before you even get in your car to come.

One thing that is prepared after ordering is the Yemeni-style bread, which has its own special tools. The dough is first flattened over a convex, cloth-covered device that is also used to transfer it to the side of a round tandoori oven. If you have never seen this preparation before, try to sneak a peek when orders are being made.

You can wait until the end of the meal, but just as well to order a cup of shahi adani ($3, not shown) to enjoy while eating. This most typical of Yemeni teas is full of cardamom and boiled with milk. Thankfully they only make it slightly sweet and serve it with extra sugar packets for those that want to make it more so. In many restaurants, this hot tea is in a large cooler and self-service, but intensely sweet just the way most Yemeni people like it.

The foods of Yemen are somewhat spicier than those of the rest of the Middle East, so ordering a few of the dishes here will be accompanied by the question of "How spicy?" The levels are still below some of the most spicy cuisines, so do not be afraid to go for it if you like your food to have a kick.

One of the two main dishes they prepare here is mandi, named for the aromatic basmati that slow-roasted meats are laid on. You can have either lamb or chicken in different sizes as custom on this most favored Arabic dish. The half chicken mandi ($13, above) is already a large amount of food, dark and white meat plopped in the center of very buttery rice turned yellow by turmeric and sprinkled with raisins, almonds, and fried onions. Mandi is served with a side of spicy sahaweq, a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, and garlic that should be applied liberally.

Raisins are an important part of eating and drinking in Yemen, and while they do not have it yet at their California location, ask about the nakie, a drink made from hours of soaking raisins. The best part of this might be the scooping required at the end of the drink to enjoy the dried fruits.

The meat options for the stir-frid qolaba dishes offer more variety, with beef (both diced and ground) and lamb liver joining the more standard lamb qolaba ($12, above). The lamb cubes are cooked with green onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, and what is probably a house secret spice mix.

A small portion of sahaweq jubn ($3, not shown) was recommended to accompany this and really hit the spot. This "sauce" has a base of feta cheese with chilies, garlic, and tomatoes, and can be used as a dip when picking up the qolaba with bread. The tandoori cooking creates a wonderful play between crispy exterior and fluffy insides, something that would not be accomplished from normal baking. The bites made from this trio might just be the winners here at Monasaba.

Make sure to order a plate of foul monasaba ($8, above), the restaurant's riff on a popular fava bean "dip" enjoyed with more bread. Here they season it with tomato sauce, resulting in the darker orange hue. The side of sahaweq jubn also pairs really well with this, and even though both the foul and qolaba come with a large piece of bread, you will find yourself wanting more by the end of the meal.

A few months from now when the tables at Monasaba are full of families from Orange County and beyond, this colorful and tasty restaurant is going to be a really enjoyable place to come to eat lunches and dinners.

๐Ÿ“ 11382 Beach Blvd., Stanton, Orange County


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