Sam’s Kebab in Van Nuys is an unexpectedly wonderful find

Sam’s Kebab in Van Nuys is an unexpectedly wonderful find

I credit Sam’s kebab With saving my sanity on a recent Saturday night. Seriously.

I often come up with a list of interesting sounding off the beaten path places that I have seen mentioned online, that seem to be worth it, and hopefully a story as well. I started the evening by going to a nifty-sounding venue, which turned out to be not a joint at all, but an anonymous door in the ghost kitchen of a warehouse district. The food could have been good. But there wasn’t much of a restaurant to write about.

Then, I headed to a seemingly tasty Middle Eastern place, with a website that said it was open until 8 on Saturday nights. The sign on the door disagreed; the place was closed on weekends. Nearby was a pretty good beer pub, which was a good place to bend a cubit, but didn’t offer a bite of food. There was a neighborhood bar that had a short menu, but the lack of customers on Saturday nights was … daunting. (I always wonder, walking into an empty restaurant, if everyone else knows something I’m about to find out.)

Feeling a bit desperate, I went to a restaurant near the Van Nuys courthouse, surrounded by bail bond shops and pawn shops. It was almost empty, with only two diners. On the table was a menu under glass. It had no prices. I asked the server where the prices were. She said she didn’t know. I asked him how he added up the bill. She walked away and came back with a cell phone that she gave me, to speak to the owner, who explained that the prices were in the QR code, which she could get on my phone. I did. The place was much more expensive than it should have been; the prices were double what I expected. I decided to go home.

It was then that, driving west on Victory Boulevard, I saw a cloud of smoke rising into the warm autumn night. It came from a street grill in front of an Armenian quick-service place called Sam’s Kebab. Feeling life flowing back to me, I parked on the street and followed a trio of revelers heading to the dance studio next door: a couple of poorly dressed guys and a woman who was over 6 feet tall with high heels, dressed in a tight leopard skin jumpsuit, with a tower of hair crowning her head. They went out to dance. I was in the mood for kebabs.

There has been a lot of talk about our kebab community in recent weeks, as the New York Times food section included a small shop in Glendale called Mini Kebab (313½ Vine St .; 818-244-1343) on their annual “50 Restaurants We Are Most Excited Right Now” list. Mini Kebab is an excellent choice from Times writer Tejal Rao. But it’s only open from 11 a.m. M. At 6 p. M. From Wednesday to Sunday. Joe’s is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. And, unlike Mini, it has space for you to sit and enjoy your kebabs comfortably. Plus, there’s the guy up front doing the grill. And a decor like no other kebab place, nowhere.

There is a mural of a waterfall that covers one wall. The roof is covered with clouds. Another wall is dominated by a complex brick and tile design. There are red bricks on the ground. But above all, there is the sweet smoke from the kebab grill, which gives both the feeling of being at someone’s house for a barbecue and of being on Victory Boulevard on a Saturday night.

And, actually, the menu isn’t much more complicated than what you’d find at an Armenian friend’s house. There are chunks of grilled chicken and beef, and ground beef and chicken on the grill. There are pork chops and lamb chops. There are the crunchiest barbecue potatoes and very good roasted vegetables too. It all comes on plates with roasted tomatoes, salad, and loads of wonderful Armenian rice, so much better than anything you make at home.

There are also side dishes of creamy tzatziki, sumptuous hummus, chunky tabbouleh, a tasty Armenian summer salad, and French fries because why not? There are several soft drinks, along with a yogurt drink called tan, made with yogurt, cucumber, salt, and herbs like parsley and mint. This is a tasty yogurt, not sweet. I appreciate every sip.

Depending on the menu, Sam’s offers catering packages of four to six for $ 100 and eight to 10 for $ 140. Which is great. But then, your guests won’t be able to see the glorious cloud of smoke rising as the cars rush by and the big steppers make their way to the dance studio.

It is the complete package that matters. And in this case, Sam’s gives us everything we need. Including an image of a waterfall. And nice clouds to consider while you wait. And remember, this is why writing about restaurants can be so much fun. Especially after a night when it wasn’t.

Merrill Shindler is an independent food critic based in Los Angeles. Send an email to

Sam’s kebab

  • Classification: 3 star
  • Speak to: 14511 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys
  • Information: 818-942-4800
  • Kitchen: Armenian kebab shop, featuring some of the best in town, cooked over an open sidewalk grill; Just look for the fragrant cloud of smoke rising!
  • When: Lunch and dinner, from Tuesday to Sunday.
  • Details: Drinks without alcohol; no reservations
  • Prices: Approximately $ 15 per person
  • Suggested dishes: 9 BBQ plates ($ 6- $ 18), 5 wraps ($ 9- $ 10), 5 appetizers ($ 5- $ 6)
  • Credit cards: MC, V
  • What the stars mean: 4 (World-class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California), 2 (A good place to eat neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s close, but don’t get stuck in traffic) 0 (Honestly, it’s not worth writing about).

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