Scouting report: Kebabs, kibbeh, cheese dip at John’s Kabobs in Monterey Park
Name of the restaurant: John’s Kabobs
Concept: A small, not-so-traditional Syrian kebab house surrounded by dim sum restaurants and a Mr. Baguette in Monterey Park. In addition to chicken kebab, beef kebab, gyro and salmon, there’s fish and chips, shrimp cocktail and hot wings. Decor is minimal, you can eat inside at one of the few tables, but the majority of the business is catering or take-out orders.
What dish represents the restaurant and why? The chicken kebab plate and a side of Changlish cheese. Chunks of white meat chicken are dusted with a mild seasoning of black pepper and allspice before hitting the grill. It’s similar to the flavor of the Arabic spice baharat, which typically contains black peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. The chicken is served with a mild garlic sauce that has just a hint of garlic, and two sides (fries, rice, Greek or Caesar salad, hummus). If you order the Greek salad it’s a plate full of greens, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and a creamy herb vinaigrette. The Changlish cheese is actually a chunky dip made of chopped red onion, tomatoes, parsley and feta cheese with olive oil. You’ll most likely end up putting it on everything, including your kebab.
Runner ups: The kibbeh. Like most kibbeh you’ll find at Lebanese restaurants, the kibbeh at John’s has a filling of spiced ground beef. But instead of a dense shell made of bulghur cracked wheat, this kibbeh has an ultra-light, crisp coating. The addition of white flour to the coating creates a crunchy, airy consistency that almost shatters in your mouth.
Who’s at the next table? A mother juggles a piece of hummus-covered pita bread in one hand while balancing her young daughter on her lap with the other. Two college kids with backpacks, each sitting at their own tables, check their Instagram and Facebook accounts while they wait for their gyros sandwiches. A young production assistant throws a fit when he realizes the restaurant did not write each crew member’s name on their respective to-go containers.
Appropriate for: A quick lunch or take-out order when you’re craving kebabs in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley.
Uh-oh: If you’re dining in and a big to-go order comes through, be prepared to wait a while. When the production crew stops in to pick up their order for 30 people, there is only one server juggling that, and all of the restaurant’s tables.
Service: Friendly, talkative and a big fan of the food. After divulging her mother dates Armenian men, the server will express confidence in her knowledge of Middle Eastern food and rave about the Changlish cheese and the lentil soup.
What are you drinking? Can of blood orange San Pellegrino soda.
Info: 440 S. Atlantic Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 284-0000
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