Ditch your pumpkin spice latte and warm up with dizi instead

An order of dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew from Nersses Vanak in Glendale
An order of dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew from Nersses Vanak in Glendale.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

I will never understand the pumpkin spice craze, or the need to associate a season with a specific flavor. I enjoy cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove separately and in my pumpkin pie. I don’t need it in a latte, Spam or Cheerios. This week, I have a better recommendation for a dish that will warm you from the inside. This is the food you should think of when someone says pumpkin spice season. And, it’s good year-round. Plus, what could be the best tuna sandwich in the universe.

Dizi from Nersses Vanak

When the weather app predicts rain and the temperature dips, Romik Abediyan gets nervous. The owner of Nersses Vanak knows that his small restaurant, tucked into the corner of a narrow strip mall in Glendale, is one of the only places around town to find dizi. And when it’s cold outside, the Iranian lamb and chickpea stew is what you’ll want to be eating.

“We usually run out,” he says. “We can only make so many, and my father is the only one who does it.”


Abediyan’s father makes his dizi by cooking lamb, chickpeas, white beans, potato, tomato and onion with a little bit of water and a pinch of turmeric, for hours. The juices from the meat and the vegetables leach out and combine with the cooking liquid to create the base for the stew. While it bubbles away, the gaminess of the lamb mellows and melts into the sweet tomato.

Romik Abediyan, owner of Nersses Vanak in Glendale, displays a dish called dizi.
Romik Abediyan, owner of Nersses Vanak in Glendale, displays dizi.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Abediyan says the name comes from the small vessel the soup is cooked in. At Nersses Vanak, he uses petite metal bowls that look like miniature pitchers or vases. If someone prepares a larger pot, he says, the dish is called abgoosht.

“Originally it comes from Iran, and it’s for people with hard labor jobs,” he says. “It’s a recipe that’s hundreds of years old and we learned it from my grandfather.”

Abediyan’s family ran a restaurant in Tehran for almost 60 years, and dizi was one of the specialties.

When you order, the server will ask if you’d like to prepare the stew yourself, or have it prepared for you in the kitchen. Ask to do it yourself. There’s a certain level of ceremony involved in the serving and preparation that will help keep you warm and engage everyone at the table. And don’t forget to ask for an order of torshi (tart, pickled vegetables), too.


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The stew arrives in the metal bowl it was cooked in, with a rim stained red by the broth and a smattering of dried herbs. On the side is a meat smasher that looks like a cross between a tiny metal plunger and Thor’s hammer, slabs of warm, blistered flatbread and an empty bowl. Use a napkin or a piece of bread to grasp the neck of the pitcher (it will be very hot) and pour the soup into the bowl, making sure to reserve the chunks of potato and lamb bobbing around in the liquid. Then take the smasher and use it to pummel the remaining meat and vegetables until a thick paste forms. Don’t worry, if you look like you’re struggling, your server will take over, aggressively swirling the smasher around to make the paste. You’ll need to put some muscle into it and you can ask your fellow dining companions to help.

Once the paste is a thick mash, you can scoop some into your bowl, or make wraps with the provided flatbread and fresh herbs. I like to put dollops of the stuff into my hot soup and eat it like lumpy meat and bean dumplings. And once I’ve finished, add in torn pieces of the flatbread to make chewy, stew-soaked croutons.

Dizi at Nersses Vanak
An order of dizi from Nersses Vanak is poured onto a plate.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Some people copy us, but they don’t really do it,” Abediyan says. “We are one of the best on this, I can tell you that. I never say I’m good, but we are good on dizi.”

If you’re not planning to build out your meal with plates of kebabs, order one dizi per person and choose your own stew adventure.

The tuna sandwich from Bub and Grandma's restaurant in Glassell Park.
The tuna sandwich from Bub and Grandma’s restaurant in Glassell Park.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Tuna sandwich from Bub and Grandma’s

There’s plenty to ogle over at the new Bub and Grandma’s restaurant in Glassell Park. The bakery case is stocked with doughnuts, croissants, muffins, pie, cake and cookies. The open kitchen offers a front-row seat to all the sandwiches, and there are many: Roasted cauliflower and cheddar with jammy balsamic onions, brisket with apple mostarda, and roast beef and cheddar, dripping with au jus. On a recent visit with friends, we slid into a booth and ordered nearly one of everything. I’d be happy to repeat it all, but my heart belongs to the tuna salad.

It’s often the lunchtime workhorse. Wrapped in plastic film and thrown into lunch boxes and office fridges around the country, it’s dependable and filling. You eat it, then forget it. Owner Andy Kadin and chef Zach Jarrett want you to remember their tuna sandwich.

“I realized as I was developing the sandwich, people have strong opinions on tuna,” Jarrett said during a recent call. “Everybody’s tuna salad is their tuna salad.”

My usual involves draining the tuna really well, shredding it until it resembles sawdust, then adding copious amounts of mayo, diced dill pickles and red onion. My dad likes extra mayonnaise on his bread. My mother sometimes subs her mayo for mashed avocado and adds extra sweet pickles. I bet you have a go-to variation, too.

Kadin and Jarrett were inspired by what they describe as “the quintessentially perfect tuna sandwich” from Palace diner, a restaurant about 15 minutes outside of Portland, Maine, where the sandwich comes with a wedge of iceberg lettuce.

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“We spent a lot of time obsessively worrying about it,” Jarrett said. “That, and everything else,” Kadin added.


The base of the salad itself is oil-packed tuna, drained and mixed with mayonnaise, housemade sweet pickles, chopped celery and pepperoncini. The sandwich is built on unbraided challah that lead baker Christopher Lier makes in old milk bread tins. It’s soft, squishy and eggy, everything a good challah aspires to be.

Andy Kadin from Bub and Grandma's
Bub and Grandma’s owner Andy Kadin at his restaurant window.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

The sandwich has the exaggerated height of a classic, stacked deli sandwich, thanks to an extra large wedge of iceberg in the center and a mound of tuna salad. It’s the sort of sandwich you give a good squeeze to encourage the proper distribution of ingredients to all the corners and edges. There are slivers of red onion and more of the sliced sweet pickles featured in the tuna salad. Both halves of the challah are spread with mayonnaise and yellow mustard, an addition that borders on the heretical depending on whom you ask. I think it makes the sandwich.

“That combo of lettuce and yellow mustard triggered a specific taste memory the way American cheese has an irreplaceable void,” Jarrett said. “It’s just correct.”

That first bite unleashes a flood of nostalgia: school lunches on the playground, beach picnics with packed coolers and quick rainy-day sandwiches prepared by my mother. Jarrett toasts just one side of the bread and serves it on the inside, so you get that first bite of soft, pillowy bread, then a satisfying crunch.

I took half home to eat the next day. The wedge stayed intact and the bread wasn’t soggy. It was a tuna sandwich to remember.


Restaurants mentioned in this article

6524 San Fernando Road, Glendale, (818) 550-7800,
3507 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles,