Friday, September 7, 2007

Sunnin Lebanese Cafe

Small humble restaurants and cafes that serve spectacular food for under $10 are always a treat to find. Not only does it takes a bit of wandering to find these restaurants, it also takes a sharp eye to actually catch them as you drive past. But, most importantly, it requires your willingness to take a chance and give these establishments a shot.

At Sunnin Lebanese Cafe, Chef Em-Toni cranks out juicy kabobs and fries up delightfully crispy falafels in an exhibition kitchen. The menu is a staggering list of savory appetizers and various grilled meats. First-timers may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of available items, all of which sound pretty damn good. The aroma of grilled meat in the air does not make ordering any easier, the smell of kabobs really awakens your hunger and urges you to order half the menu.

The dining area is small, consisting of four tables (each seats five) and roughly seven seats at the bar overlooking the grill, which takes up a third of the room. Expect to rub elbows with the regulars. Take-out is also an option at Sunnin, and many customers opt for it despite the scarcity of nearby parking. Feel free to flash your emergency blinkers and park outside the cafe. After all, a curb painted red is meant for emergencies right? Nothing is more important than satisfying hunger.

Because of limited seating, Sunnin is packed during dining hours any given day of the week. Fortunately, most patrons are courteous enough to not leisurely eat and lounge after their meals. That's not to say you shouldn't comfortably enjoy your meal, but the line of people waiting outside are hungry as well. Hard wooden chairs do help the turn-over rate, however.

On my visit, I went with the basics:
Appetizer- Hummus and Falafels.

Kebbeh Bil Sayniyeh,Spicy Kefta, and Shawarma.
Dessert- Understandably none.

My order of Hummus and Falafels arrived with enough pita to serve four. Hummus is a very common side order made with garbonzo bean paste, garlic, tahini, lime, and topped with a nutty olive oil. My appetite was increased two-fold after tasting Sunnin's hummus. It was fresh and skillfully prepared. The falafels were fried perfectly. Though they may seem overcooked, falafels have to be fried a deep golden brown in order for them to be appropriately crunchy. Falafel is a fried vegetarian dish made with a patty of spiced fava beans and/or chickpeas. It is commonly served in a pita with a dash of hummus, which is exactly how I had mine. These appetizers certainly did not disappoint. They even raised my standards for the upcoming entrees.

Kebbeh Bil Sayniyeh

This plate consists of grounded beef and burgul stuffed with minced beef, onions, and pine nuts. On the side are hummus, "Lebanese Salad," and rice. Interestingly enough, the meat tasted almost exactly like a Taiwanese braised meat dish. Unfortunately, I do not know Pinyin, but native speakers should recognize the phonetics "Lu zho fan". Kebbeh Bil Sayniyeh was leaner and heavier on herbs/spices than its Taiwanese tasting counterpart. Also, no soy sauce was used. It is amazing that two completely different cultures at opposite ends of a continent produced such a similar flavor with their own regional ingredients. Kebbeh Bil Sayniyeh was served as ground beef and onions sandwiched between two juicy patties. A taste of Lebanese as well as a taste of home (Taiwan) cooking...I loved it.


Shawarma is marinaded beef cooked on a vertical broiler. Sunnin's broiler was teasing my taste buds the whole time I waited for a table, so I felt compelled to order the Sharwarma. The flavor was amazing, but the texture was a bit too dry. Tahini did help to render each bite easier to chew.

Spicy Kefta

Kefta Kebabs are made with ground beef with chopped onions, parsley, and seasoned with a mix of spices. Pretty good all by itself, but baking the kebab in tomato sauce and herbs makes it Spicy Kefta. The tomato sauce just adds more flavor, but is by no means spicy. Cilantro was used sparingly in the sauce, which to me is a plus. I'm not a fan of cilantro because personally I feel that the taste overwhelms the more important ingredients in a dish. Toni added just the right amount. The kebabs were so tender you would never guess that Toni uses lean beef. These were fluffy like a good meat loaf or burger paddy or any ball of ground beef should be.

With the exception of the beef shawarma, I consider this trip a success. I can see why regulars flock to Sunnin when there are so many other dining options available. Sunnin offers great food and friendly service for a paltry $4.75 per appetizer and $8 per entree. What a steal. I am definitely swinging by next time I'm in the area.


Anonymous said...

If this is the Sunnin Lebanese cafe i agree the the shawaram was very dry but everything else was very good.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the Sunnin in Long Beach on 2nd street if that is the case we have had a similar experience, being that the Shawarma was very dry. Every thing else was very good. There is real competition for Lebanese food on this street with two other options Open Sesame and i think the Magic Lamp. Maybe you could try them and compare them.

Happy Eatting

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