Dining review: Flavor and health collide at Zina's

My grandmother was a terrible cook. Her hamburger patty skidded across the plate like a hockey puck. Not so with Sonia Race's grandmother. Both of hers were chefs, so she's dedicated her cute new restaurant, Zina's Healthy Corner, to them and to her mom, Zina.

Sonia has transformed the tiny space, formerly a hot dog stand, into an al fresco cafe serving freshly prepared Mediterranean food. Kebabs and luleh make up the lion's share of the menu, but house specialties like fava bean rice, homemade yogurt salads, vegetarian wraps and breakfast crepes make Zina's Healthy Corner a step outside the norm.

It is a little strange to eat Zina's hearty, dinner-worthy food outside, and from a Styrofoam box, while traffic whizzes by on Foothill Boulevard, but Sonia's warm and welcoming nature make you feel like you're simply out on the family patio, a nicely redecorated one at that, with awnings and heat lamps. She keeps running back to the kitchen to get a side of tzatziki or more iced tea while keeping up a friendly conversation. The iced tea is fresh-brewed, and the cucumber-mint tzatziki ($3) boasts thick, creamy yogurt made that morning.

Sonia's family recipe for freshly ground chicken and beef luleh renders a nicely seasoned, juicy kebab or wrap ($5.99-$6.99). The same luleh is used in their popular “minis.” For a mere dollar you get a small luleh strip wrapped in lavash with bright yellow saffron sauce, chopped onion and a refreshing amount of chopped parsley. I'd pop in for this pick-me-up any time of day.

For more substantial fare, try the slow-cooked lamb shank covered in Persian rice with fava beans and sauteed herbs, primarily dill ($9.99). I also enjoyed the Barberry Rice with saffron-cooked chicken ($9.99), a full leg of tender bird under a truck-load of basmati rice speckled with tart barberries. Something like pomegranate seeds or cranberries, these little berries are addictive. Try some shallot or spinach yogurt on the side.

Vegetarian offerings range from a grilled vegetable kebab ($6.99) to a Russian potato salad wrap with egg ($5.99) to sarma, grape leaves stuffed with bulgur and seasonings ($3-5). The delicious crepes ($6.99), served only on the weekends, come sweet (with fillings like berries, caramelized apples and pecans) or savory (as in eggs, bacon and melted havarti).

The prices are higher than you're probably used to seeing at a food stand but lower than those at a more formal Mediterranean restaurant, and the food is just as good, if not better. So drop in for a “mini” and maybe stay for a meal.

LISA DUPUY is a dining critic for Marquee. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.

Zina's Healthy Corner

Where: 2242 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada

When: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; weekends 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Contact: (818) 957-2626

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