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The charred octopus from Rouge. POI: Modern Armenian in Los Angeles

7 rising Armenian chefs who are making a mark on L.A.’s food scene

For decades, Armenian immigrant food in Los Angeles was the hospitable shop skewering varieties of kebab, charring lahmadjoon in a brick oven or slicing shawarma onto pita bread, sumac and roasted garlic puncturing the air, streaming from the vertical rotisserie out to the sidewalks.

When a genocide and political turmoils forced millions of Armenians out of their homeland, their culinary heritage met influences from the Middle East and other countries where they found refuge. They carried those traditions — some old, others more recent — all the way to the United States, where food became one of the most important and defining facets of the community. As the Armenian community in Los Angeles grew to become one of the largest outside of Armenia, it became more and more difficult to distinguish Armenian food as a whole.

Crista Marie Ani Aladjadjian, founder of Mezze Spices, an ethically sourced spice collection that pays tribute to her Syrian Armenian heritage, says: “To me, Armenian food is a foundation of certain flavors, and then building off of that, a sort of seamless fusion with other cultures that were so hospitable to us as a people. In return we’ve kept and preserved their culinary heritage through our cooking.”

Over the last decade, a new generation of Armenian chefs and restaurateurs has emerged, eager to break boundaries and expand the cuisine‘s narrative by bringing in new flavors and spices. Take Ara Zada, chef and co-author of “Lavash,” a cookbook that explores the flatbread that’s so integral to Armenian cuisine. Zada and comedian Jack Assadourian Jr. went viral earlier this year when the pair began releasing cooking tutorials for unique Armenian Mexican dishes, including a “lahmarito,” or burrito with rounds of lahmajune, spiced basturma meat, hummus and traditional fillings of carne asada, Mexican rice, pico de gallo and salsa, all wrapped in lavash.


“If we stick to traditional food and don’t acclimate to what is trendy, I think our food will get lost,” said Mary Keledjian, the supervising culinary producer for “MasterChef.” “There is a special place in keeping traditions alive and [cooking something] exactly as it is supposed to be. And there is this other spectrum of mixing Armenian food with different styles. It’s the way forward.”

As sons and daughters of first- and second-generation Armenian immigrants entered into the culinary world, they kept in mind the flavors cherished by their parents while embracing all the diversity that a city like L.A. offers. The chefs and restaurants highlighted here serve as pioneers in the transformation of Armenian immigrant cuisine, drawing influence from California’s seasonality, local food cultures and more.

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Free Range Chicken Taco from Cocina Cilantro.
(Cocina Cilantro)

Cocina Cilantro

Glendale Mexican $
Dero Shahnazarian has always had a passion for Latin American and Mexican cuisines. After 17 years in fine dining (Ink with Michael Voltaggio, Red O, Cleo and Bourbon Steak House), he finally opened his dream restaurant with Cocina Cilantro in Glendale, cooking his version of fast-casual food. Shahnazarian considers cilantro one of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and different shades of the verdant herb are featured in the wall decor, furniture and even on the welcome sign. Soy chorizo tacos with sweet potato tots, caramelized onion, crema, cotija cheese and, of course, cilantro represent one of the signature dishes at Shahnazarian’s restaurant.
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LOS ANGELES , CA - MARCH 22: Fried Cod sandwich from Oui on Melrose at Oui on Monday, March 22, 2021 in Los Angeles , CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Oui Melrose

Hollywood Sandwich Shop $$
Armen Piskoulian (Michael’s Santa Monica, Tasting Kitchen) opened his sandwich storefront on Melrose Avenue right in the middle of the pandemic. With just a couple of outdoor tables and a few more inside, plus an L-shaped counter, Oui is mostly concentrated on takeout and delivery. Here, everything is made from scratch — including the sesame seed roll that envelops the ribeye cheesesteak with sweet onions and mushrooms, and the fried cod sandwich garnished with pickles and tartar sauce, providing the right amount of acidity. Piskoulian has a special recipe for khachapuri, a doughy oval disc filled with cheese and eggs that’s traditionally Georgian and very popular in Armenian cuisine.
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Medi Chicken Kabob plate from Piccadilly Grace.
(Ali Michelle )

Piccadilly Grace

San Gabriel Valley Mediterranean $$
Linda Grace opened her second restaurant at the beginning of 2023, paying homage to her grandfather Mesrob, a genocide survivor who ran a cafe called Piccadilly in Baghdad for more than 40 years. With the help of chef Emilio Ortiz, she serves baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and traditional Middle Eastern dishes such as chicken kebab marinated in Lebanese red pepper and served on a bed of rice with roasted garlic, onions and grilled vegetables all marinated in herbs and olive oil that give it that special California twist. Grace recently acquired her third restaurant, Fiore Cafe in South Pasadena.
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The interior at Rouge is inspired by the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula.


Studio City Californian $$
With Rouge, Kevin and Haik Zadoyan transformed a 15-year-old hookah lounge into an upscale dining destination in Studio City. With a fully retractable roof, vibrant plant decor and woven wicker details, the restaurant offers a relaxing ambiance inspired by the lush jungle oasis of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It stands apart with an extensive selection of Armenian wines imported directly from Armenia, plus popular dishes that utilize local produce. Beets by Dro is inspired by a beet salad that executive chef Dro Dergevorgian’s grandmother used to make, with passion fruit, avocado, pomegranate and pistachio. The chef’s culinary résumé includes working closely with chef Paul Shoemaker as sous chef at Firefly, as well as time at Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach. The charred octopus that’s draped over corn and cotija cheese and dotted with vibrant circles of ninja radish represents another menu highlight. Pastry chef Gabrielle Gabelian (Son of a Gun, Petit Trois) pays homage to her heritage with Persian Love Story, a dessert that adds pistachio cream and rose meringue to a cardamom tart shell.
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The exterior of San Marino Cafe and Marketplace.
(San Marino Cafe and Marketplace)

San Marino Cafe and Marketplace

San Marino Breakfast/Lunch Sandwich Shop $$
At this charming restaurant within a marketplace, shelves are filled with products imported from Armenia or sourced locally, such as balsamic vinegar, a variety of chutneys, preserves, pastas and wine. For the restaurant, owner Linda Grace serves sandwiches, soups and appetizers inspired by her Armenian heritage. Grace uses her grandmother’s recipe for red lentil soup, as well as rice-filled grape leaves and hummus that’s featured in different sandwiches but puts her own spin on the Bodega Breakfast burrito and Marketplace panini that are spread with house-made garlic lemon aioli. San Marino Cafe and Marketplace hosts monthly wine-tasting events pouring local and international wines offered by the resident sommelier.
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The saffron and rose toast tower from Toasted Cafe.
(Toasted Cafe)

Toasted Cafe

Glendale Confections $
Ice cream on bread was an everyday snack for Claudine Thomassians and her sister while growing up in Oregon. When Thomassians moved to L.A., she decided to share her culinary habit with others and in December 2021 opened Toasted Cafe in Montrose‘s Historic Old Town. The cozy cafe attracts grandparents for their morning coffee and students and others who just want to nestle on the bay window benches and chairs. Thick, toasted milk-bread towers are filled with ice cream, cookies, marshmallows, saffron, fruits and rose petals; they’ll satisfy even the pickiest appetite. A goat cheese and fig sandwich thoughtfully balanced with eggs and spinach, along with a zaatar sandwich with avocado, feta and tomato, serve as vehicles for Thomassians to share her favorite flavors with customers.
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A box of colorful donuts from Verto's Kitchen.
(Verto’s Kitchen)

Verto's Kitchen

Woodland Hills Donut Shop $
Ani Davtyan, the daughter of Armenian immigrants, grew up in her grandmother Verto’s kitchen, which served as an informal restaurant for her siblings, friends and relatives. In 2018, the family decided to turn it into a catering business serving traditional Armenian small bites and pastries. During the pandemic the business took a forced break, givingDavtyan a lot of time to experiment with various doughnut recipes at home. One of her friends posted about it on social media, which started a new journey of becoming Verto’s Kitchen in 2020. The interior is clean and modern, with pastel lounge chairs, ottomans and plants. The patio, covered with turquoise tiles and cherry blossom flowers, evokes a European vibe. Davtyan’s skills are showcased in artsy and brightly colored baked doughnuts made from natural fruit flavors. Her favorite ingredient is matcha, which she is using not only in popular doughnuts like rose, pistachio and chocolate, but also in 10 different drinks. Verto’s also offers different types of baklavas and walnut rolls made by Davtyan’s grandmother.
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A hand roll with shrimp tempura and spicy sauce from Yunomi.
(Yunomi Handroll)

Yunomi Handroll

Downtown L.A. Sushi $$
Chef David Movsisian’s intimate, C-shaped sushi bar lets diners behold as he craftily prepares hand rolls with shrimp tempura or yellowtail, spicy sauce and crispy onions wrapped in seasoned Korean seaweed, which helps the hand rolls stay crunchy. The sushi bar offers four types of Japanese teas brewed in tetsubin kettles and served in cylindrical yunomi cups that are made for daily tea drinking. Movsisian refined his skills working under chef Katsuya Uechi for 12 years before opening his own restaurant with his cousin Karren Antonyan. A second Yunomi location will open in Culver City this summer.

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