Armen Martirosyan’s big plans for Mini Kabob and the return of Mid East Tacos


“I remember the first time I saw my dad barbecue,” Armen Martirosyan says as he scrubs the grill at Mini Kabob inside the Westfield Topanga shopping center’s recently opened Topanga Social food hall. It’s the second location of his family’s tiny but beloved Glendale restaurant.

“I was around 4 or 5 years old and that’s when we would have people over to our house — ‘house’ — our apartment. And I remember my dad, he was downstairs just grilling the meat. And they were all hanging out having fun. Simple. Peaceful. Everybody was just enjoying the moment. Maybe it’s something I’m trying to chase? I don’t know.”

VIDEO | 09:28
Chicken cutlets with Mini Kabob’s Armen Martirosyan

Throughout his childhood, Martirosyan assumed that once he grew up he’d leave behind his parents’ Glendale restaurant and find his own path.


“I thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go to school for business.’ That’s what every Armenian kid does,” he says.

But he quickly discovered he didn’t like the classes and decided to try culinary school — “because this is what I know,” he says.

He pictured himself cooking in restaurants very different from Mini Kabob. Yet after culinary school and time working as a manager and cooking Japanese food at Tatsu Ramen, his path led him home again.

The pivot happened suddenly.

“I was making fried rice, you know, cranking it on the wok [at Tatsu Ramen] and I had this crazy epiphany. Everything slowed down, almost like [Dragon Ball’s] Goku transitioning into a Super Saiyan. I turned into this different person within seconds.

“That’s when I realized, I’m making somebody else money while my mom and dad are sweating every day, seven days a week, you know, 12, 13, 14, 15 hours a day. I’m like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I thought, I’ve learned to scale a business, I’ve learned the management skills, communication skills. I’ve learned to cook different styles of food. It’s like, ‘Dude, it’s time.’”

Alvard Martirosyan with her son, Armen, at Mini Kabob in Glendale
Alvard Martirosyan with her son, Armen, at Mini Kabob in Glendale.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

He turned to his floor manager and says he told him, “‘Look, I’m quitting tonight. I’m telling you, out of respect. I’m completely and officially done.’

“It’s just it was my time. I started at Mini Kabob the next day.”

The twist is that his parents weren’t exactly happy to see him return to the business.

A family with their arms around each other stands in front of a small restaurant
The Martirosyans: Armen, left, with his mother, Alvard, and father, Ovakim, in front of Mini Kabob in Glendale.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

“Everything that I’ve done [at Mini Kabob], I’ll tell you, 98% of it they’ve been against,” Martirosyan says.

“It’s a weird feeling. You left a good job that was paying you decent. You’re 24 years old. You were pretty ahead, I think my parents felt a little disappointed in me. I get it. My dad just wants us to live a better life in America. But I came in with the perspective of, OK, let me learn everything here.”

Instagram was just starting to have an impact on the restaurant world, so Martirosyan decided Mini Kabob had to grow its social media exposure. “We needed to increase our foot traffic, we needed multicultural influence in our restaurant” — because, he says, Glendale was gentrifying and couldn’t rely solely on its traditional Armenian customer base — “and we needed to increase our sales.”

He started an Instagram page with the handle the Bearded Chef, and says, “I made gear. I made T-shirts, hats.” But then, “I was like, What am I doing? You know, wrong direction.”

So he changed his Instagram handle to Eat Bearded, began reaching out to other influencers and chefs to raise the restaurant’s profile (he now has more than 47,600 followers) and he put a lot of effort into customer service at the restaurant while absorbing all he could in the kitchen from his parents.


Slowly, things started to shift. In 2019, The Times’ Lucas Kwan Peterson featured Mini Kabob in an episode of his “Off Menu” video series, declaring the “tiny family-run kebab joint” to be “the best Armenian restaurant in L.A.” In 2021 and 2022, Times restaurant critic Bill Addison put Mini Kabob on his 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list, saying the kebabs are marinated so thoroughly “the seasonings seep down to a cellular level [and] emerge from the flames smoky and always juicy.”

“It’s so much fun,” Martirosyan says, “because now we have so many customers. They bring in wine; they’re eating on a picnic table. I try to engage with every single customer. I take care of people and it’s been reciprocated, which is something that my parents have seen, even if they can’t admit to it. But tending to people is important for me.”

This tiny Armenian kabob shop in Glendale has been making kabobs for 33 years.

July 29, 2019

One of Martirosyan’s other passions is his project Mid East Tacos, which appeared for a time at the weekly food marketplace Smorgasburg L.A. serving not tacos arabes — “the obvious,” as Martirosyan puts it — but steak and chicken kebab tacos and burritos plus falafel tacos. After a long COVID-sparked hiatus, Mid East Tacos is about to return — but this time, not as a pop-up.

“So, Mid East Tacos? I’ll say it here first,” Martirosyan tells us with a gleam in his eye. “Mid East Tacos will officially be a brick-and-mortar restaurant [in Silver Lake] off of Maltman and Sunset, next to Millie’s Cafe, right on the corner. And that should be open by the end of the summer.”

It’s a taco style he feels is right for Los Angeles.

“This is just how I like to eat,” Martirosyan says. “I grew up in L.A. eating tacos and khorovats [grilled Armenian shish kebabs]. Bringing them together? It just makes so much sense.

“So we’re cooking traditional Armenian barbecue over grapevines and charcoal, and we’re making fresh tortillas. I emulsify the garlic sauce with chile de arbol and chipotle adobo.


“I do a couple of other things that I’ve actually taken from Wes Avila’s ‘Guerrilla Tacos’ cookbook — his sweet potato tacos and his red sauce that goes on top. Let’s just say it has a lot of influence on my garlic sauce. I respect Wes. He’s got such a good palate. I love hanging out with him and picking his brain.”

Martirosyan’s mother, Alvard, and father, Ovakim, sometimes have trouble understanding his new initiatives even though his efforts at Mini Kabob — including making small adjustments in the kitchen like adding additional marinade to the chicken thighs or a little extra Aleppo pepper — have led to a steady increase in customers.

“They’re so comfortable with what they have. It’s enough for them,” he says. “But in my eyes, no change at all is super-depressive. America gives you that breath of fresh air. This is the place where you can make changes. Fail. It’s fine. Just fail forward.”

This is why he took the risk in opening a second Mini Kabob location at Topanga Social, knowing ahead of time that it could fail.

“Topanga is very difficult right now,” he says. “It’s a whole different ballgame. We’re in this new wave of what mall food is. I think a lot of Americans have been conditioned to eat chain foods that aren’t necessarily good for you, high in saturated fat. But the idea behind the new development at Westfield Mall is, let’s curate these local restaurants that actually have integrity in what they’re doing, with good locally sourced product, and let’s try to copy and paste that.

Armen Martirosyan at Mini Kabob's second location in the Topanga Social food hall at the Westfield Topanga Mall.
(Cody Long / Los Angeles Times)

“But there are a lot of bottlenecks to doing this because you’re making changes that [the industry] isn’t fully onto yet. If you’re going to take my recipes and copy them, you better do it right. If our brand name is tarnished, then it’s not OK. My wife is there everyday tasting flavors. I’m there making sure things are done right. Are you toasting the black pepper? Are you using the right lemon juice? Are you making ghee or just melting butter?

“These are my dad’s concoctions. All I’m trying to do is pay homage to it. Doing Pops right. Making sure that we’re respecting everything we learned.

“I believe we’re going to get to that next level with Mini Kabob,” he says as he envisions the potential for Mini Kabobs across Southern California. “But we were just getting started. No exhale yet. I’m still holding my breath.”

Armen Martirosyan waves to a passerby at his restaurant, Mini Kabob, in Glendale
Armen Martirosyan at Mini Kabob in Glendale.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

In the Kitchen

Recently, Martirosyan came into the Times Test Kitchen to make one of Mini Kabob’s most-ordered dishes, pan-seared chicken cutlets. It’s one of his father‘s favorite things to eat and brings back memories of Armen’s childhood:

“When I was 6 years old,” Martirosyan says, “my dad used to get leftover fries, and he would chop them up and he’d throw eggs in. Just buttery, you know? And he’d pan-sear some chicken cutlets to get this nice, beautiful golden brown. He’d cut tomatoes, he’d cut jalapeños and he would throw them in too. I remember he’s like, ‘Armen, come here, try this.’ It was super-decadent and luxurious, so good.

“I remember the first time I made the chicken cutlet, I was like, ‘Let me do it, let me do it, let me do it!’ I burned it because my skillet was too high and I overcooked the heck out of the cutlet outside and had this raw chicken in the middle. My dad was like, ‘What are you doing? I put my faith in you.’ I was like, damn. OK, I’ll work harder at it.


“This guy eats chicken cutlet every day at the restaurant. He’ll get some hummus, which reminds him of his mother because it’s his mother’s recipe from Egypt. And he’ll plate this beautiful dish and just sit down quietly. Nobody can disturb this man. I think that’s his peace time. I think he’s kind of like going through his Rolodex of memories as he’s eating every time.”

These are the juicy chicken cutlets that Ovakim Martirosyan, one of the owners of Armenian restaurant Mini Kabob in Glendale, eats himself — for a meal served with basmati rice, sumac-laced onions and charred tomato and jalapeno.

Sept. 7, 2023

Where to try Mini Kabob

Food Bowl Night Market: Sample Mini Kabob specialties at the opening night of L.A. Times Night Market, Paramount Pictures Studios Backlot, 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.,

Mini Kebob, 313 1/2 Vine St, Glendale, (818) 244-1343 and at Topanga Social, Westfield Topanga mall, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park,