Grape Leaves But No Chains In the Garden

Some Orange County visitors--and even residents--lament the county's lack of unique restaurants, characterizing the area as a wasteland of chain restaurants and taco stands.

But that's just because they don't know where to look.

They could start with Armenian Garden Cuisine, across the street from La Quinta High School, near the corner of McFadden Avenue and Ward Street in Garden Grove.

Though it might look like a taco stand at first glance, this unassuming restaurant has offered tasty, well-prepared meals at incredibly low prices since it opened about a year ago.

The most expensive meal on the menu is a combination dinner featuring shish kebab, louleh kebab (seasoned ground beef), chicken kebab, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, rice pilaf, salad and pita bread--all for $9.95.

The lamb kebab, at $6.50 for a full dinner, and the chicken farouj, a whole roasted chicken for $5.75, are also good choices.

Appetizers at Armenian Garden are outstanding, particularly the hummus-- a tangy mixture of mashed marinated garbanzo beans with tahini, garlic and olive oil--and the baba ghannouj, eggplant prepared in a similar fashion.

In the dessert category, the baklava drenched in honey is delicious, not to mention only a buck.

The restaurant does not serve beer or wine but you're welcome to bring your own.

The atmosphere here is definitely no-frills. Patrons order their meals at a window in the front room before taking seats there or in a side area resembling a shed. The restroom is outside and around back and the chairs are red plastic.

Servers are pleasant and quick to bring more pita bread but don't hover over diners.

And the best part? Even on Friday and Saturday nights, when those bland chain restaurants are packed to the rafters, there's no wait for a table here.

Armenian Garden Cuisine, 15532 Ward St., Garden Grove. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday till 7 p.m. (714) 775-4499.

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