>> Sofra Urbana | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Sofra Urbana

🇧🇦 BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Magnolia Street facade
COVID-19 UPDATE: The small dining room is open. Staff are masked but many customers are not.


In New York City it is not even peculiar to see a Balkan-owned slice shop on just about every corner of the five boroughs. For a few decades Albanians were the main purveyors of pies after taking over the throne from generations of Italian Americans and eventually being joined themselves by Mexican immigrants. Like their successors sometimes offering weekend tacos or menudo, Albanians also kissed their menus with food from back home, and especially burek, an item that cooks perfectly in a pizza oven.

While Los Angeles and all of Southern California certainly need no comparison to any city on the east coast, having a similarly spirited operation is definitely a welcomed occurrence for a place without much Balkan influence to begin with. Many of the customers calling in to place orders are sticking to the pizza for now, and this pays the bills in a country that eats the second most pizza per capita in the world (behind Norway).

Ćevapi served with ajvar and kajmak

Set near the back corner of a shopping plaza anchored by an Aldi and sandwiched in between a hair salon and a physical therapy office, the big words "PIZZA GRILL" are the only things visible from the parking lot. It takes walking right up the front door to finally see the restaurant's name and once inside you can see the Bosnian foods that join the many varieties of pizza on the menu.

If you have room for only one meal to immediately devour, try the ćevapi ($8.99 for small order of 5, above), the skinless grilled sausages that are the pride of every Balkan country. They ask if you want onions here, and they pile them on when you say yes, but anyone saying no will be doing themselves a disservice not to enjoy it the "right" way. On the side you will find both kajmak (fresh cheese) and ajvar (red pepper spread) to add to bites.

Bosnian burger

Both the ćevapi and Bosnian burger ($8.99, above) are on somun, a relative of pita (even more similar to Turkish pide, where it is adapted from) that is important to Bosnian people and used everyday. If you are walking the streets of Sarajevo and strike up a conversation about somun with a local, they will tell you to come back during Ramadan, when black seed is sprinkled into the bread and becomes the official scent of the holiday in Bosnia. Somun is made only from flour, salt, and water, and is prepared and baked here throughout the day.

The burger is a thick patty, somewhere between the mighty pljeskavica and an all-American burger, with lettuce, tomato, ajvar, and kajmak already added in between the somun. The ćevapi is a bit easier to eat, ripping off pieces of bread and picking up one link at a time, but both are seasoned very nicely and expertly grilled.

Beef, cheese, and spinach and cheese burek in a pizza box

The skill with dough could have already been proved by the pizzas and somun, but do not pass up the chance to try one of their many options for burek. Untwisting these and enjoying bites that have a satisfying crispy, flaky crunch and gooey soft interior together is where the true magic of the kitchen is clinched. The pizza box above is filled with three classics, a simple beef burek ($10.49), cheese burek called sirnica ($9.49) and spinach and cheese zeljanica ($9.49).

On the side is a cool, refreshing yogurt dip infused with cucumber that is hard to resist and pairs well with all three burek options. They also make a potato version of the burek which will have to be sampled on a return visit.

Mantije

While there is not a ton of room to stay for a meal, the small space reads as a classic pizza parlor from the "Thank You" on the wooden trash can door swing to the self serve soda machine. Most customers are doing pickup or takeout orders, but it is not so bad to sit here as well.

When you do, you might notice more things like the chalkboard with Bosnian specials like mantije ($14.95, above), a dairy lovers delight that also allows for more enjoyment of the gooey aspects of their dough. Inside these nuggets is a little ball of kajmak, and after baking a thick layer of yogurt is dropped over everything.

Bosnian coffee served in traditional way

You might also notice a couple traditional Bosnian coffee ($4.95, above) sets behind the counter, and if you have some time they can prepare a portion for you. This is strong coffee, gritty from all the ground beans if you sip too fast, and probably should not be consumed too far into the evening if you value sleep.

A few cubes of sugar are included and can help tone down the strength if desired, as well as a gummy candy known as rahat lokum in Bosnia and similar to one variety of Turkish delight. You would never know it from glancing over from a grocery run to Aldi, but some of the most uniquely Balkan experiences in all of Southern California are hiding in this Fountain Valley shopping center.

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