The Best Restaurants in Orange County’s Little Arabia Neighborhood

Zait and Zaatar

Anaheim is perhaps best known as being the home of Disneyland, but just two miles away from Mickey’s playground is Little Arabia District, the hub for Orange County’s Arab American community. A conglomeration of restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores, hair salons, hookah lounges, and markets, nearly all of the businesses of Little Arabia are located along Brookhurst Street, primarily between Katella and La Palma Avenues.

The district started informally in the 1980s when the first Arab market opened, and from there several businesses opened up around it, including coffee shops, culturally sensitive attorneys, and tax preparers that speak Arabic. Little Arabia grew quite a bit in the 1990s with the arrival of immigrants primarily from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine.

In contrast to neighboring communities like Little Saigon and Koreatown, no part of Little Arabia is dominated by Arab businesses. Instead, they are nestled in strip malls next to tattoo parlors and smoke shops, and you’re just as likely to see signs in Arabic as you are in Spanish, Vietnamese, or Chinese.

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, Founder and Executive Director of the Arab American Civic Council (AACC), is a Saudi-born American of Palestinian and Armenian origin. He’s lived in Anaheim since 2003, and has been in California since 1999. “I’m an immigrant, and when I first came to California, I didn’t know about Little Arabia,” he recalls. “So when I found out about it, it felt like a home away from home.” This is eventually what led him to start a campaign to get the district officially designated by the city in order to increase visibility.

Al-Dabbagh founded AACC about a decade ago, with the goal of mobilizing the Arab American community in Southern California, specifically Orange County. “I wanted to make our voices heard, take action, encourage civic engagement, and facilitate our advocacy efforts,” he says. Although Little Arabia has not yet been officially designated as a district, the AACC is gradually making strides. Al-Dabbagh also wants to encourage a more culturally-cohesive identity and help distinguish the district by inviting artists to create a mural there.

Last year, the AACC was successful in getting the State Senate to pass a proclamation that recognizes April as Arab American Heritage Month. The Arab American Heritage Gala occurs annually and highlights the community’s achievements. This year it is being held on May 7 at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove. During the month of Ramadan, which falls in April this year, many restaurants in Little Arabia are open late and offer buffets for those breaking their fasts.

The best way to get to know Little Arabia is to take yourself on a self-guided culinary tour of the neighborhood, stopping to sample as much as you can. Here are 15 of our favorite restaurants, bakeries, and hookah lounges:

Kareem's Falafel
Kareem’s Falafel

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Established in 1996, Kareem’s is one of the oldest restaurants in Little Arabia that’s still in business. While they are well-known for their falafel and even sell their own frozen falafel mix, the menu is a combination of traditional dishes, bowls, salads, and breakfast items like Shakshuka and Fatteh. There’s even a plant-based section, with such delicacies as Pomegranate Brussels and Vegan Kibbeh Rolls. Try the Hummus Entourage, a plate of hummus topped with either sauteed chicken or steak and pan-seared almonds, and enjoy your meal on the breezy outdoor patio. While you’re there, be sure to say hello to Kareem, the restaurant’s namesake.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. Available for takeout and delivery via GrubHub.
 

House Of Mandi-Yemeni Restaurant
House Of Mandi-Yemeni Restaurant

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One of the few Yemeni restaurants in California and established in 2020, House of Mandi is a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene in Little Arabia. This is the place to visit for a decadent meal that is lovingly prepared. The specialty here is Lamb or Chicken Mandi, a traditional dish with rice, choice of meat, and spices. The dish originated in Hadhramaut, Yemen, and is served with zahawiq, a spicy condiment. Try the Mushakal Forn, a vegetable stew with okra, zucchini, and potatoes that you can scoop up with Yemeni flatbread. House of Mandi is a popular spot, so be sure to make reservations for larger groups.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, delivery available via DoorDash, UberEats, and Postmates. Call for reservations: 657-220-5272.

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A friendly, family-run bakery, Knafeh Cafe serves up a variety of delicacies. You can’t go wrong with palate-pleasing treats such as Baklava or Hareeseh with Nuts, a honey-drenched, moist semolina cake that is covered with pistachios. But their specialty is knafeh, a sweet, cheese-filled pastry that’s said to have originated in the city of Nablus, Palestine. This knafeh is made from owner Asem Abusir’s family recipe, passed down from generation to generation. You can sample knafeh by the slice, or have a made-to-order tray ready for you in 20 minutes. Pair your dessert of choice with a Turkish coffee for extra indulgence.
How to order: Walk in or order online for pickup.

Le Mirage Pastry
Le Mirage Pastry

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Maher Nakhal, owner of Le Mirage Pastry, is something of a local celebrity—and for good reason. The Syrian baker grew up in Damascus, and has been honing his craft since his late teens. Step inside his bakery on Brookhurst and you won’t know where to look first. A selection of French treats such as eclairs, mille feuille, and creme brulee sit sweetly next to trays of baklava, blurren, and binannare. But if there’s one thing you need to try, it should be bouza, a pistachio-filled ice cream that’s sweetened with rosewater and chewy in texture. If you happen to see Nakhal, ask him about the process he employs to create this delectable sweet.
How to order: Walk in or order takeout and delivery via UberEats, GrubHub, and DoorDash.

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Located a few doors down from Kareem’s, Nara Bistro is a welcoming restaurant and hookah lounge that serves food into the late evening. The menu and daily specials are inspired by the cuisines of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq. Whether you decide to dine in the lounge or on the spacious outdoor patio anchored with fire pits and water fountains, you can indulge in hookah after your meal. Order a Kofta Wrap that’s filled with minced beef and lamb skewer, sumac, and tahini, or if you’re a little hungrier, try the Sahara Skewers, with one skewer each of chicken kabob, beef kabob, and kofta.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome.

Little Arabia Restaurant
Little Arabia Restaurant

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Opened in 2014, this all-day restaurant aims to take diners on a journey through Lebanon with its dishes and desserts. And you truly can’t go wrong with anything you order here, whether it’s the kabobs, falafel, or shawarma. All the meats are freshly made and well-seasoned, served with tahini and garlic sauce. In the mood for something different? Order one of the pizza-inspired bakery pies that come with toppings like kafta and cheese, and soujuk, a spicy lamb and beef sausage. There are also more traditional veggie and pepperoni options. Be sure to save room for dessert, as you’ll have a difficult time choosing between baklava, knafeh, and warbat. Service is fast and friendly, and you can take a jar of minced fig jam or olives home with you to savor later.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout.

Koftegi
Koftegi

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Koftegi’s chef and owner Mehmet Kaplan hails from Turkey, and before opening his restaurant he took tourists on culinary tours of his home country. Operating out of the former Al Sanabel Bakery, Kaplan and his wife Lisa Matarazzo now serve what they call Turkish comfort food, a menu of favorites that includes Köfte (char-grilled ground beef patties) and Döner, marinated beef tri-tip that is grilled on a vertical rotisserie. Don’t even try to resist the pide, or Turkish flatbread boats, which can be enjoyed with a variety of toppings ranging from Four Cheese and Bastirma (an air-dried cured beef) to Kashkaval and Turkish Soujuk. Arrive early and order the Turkish breakfast tray, a delightful spread of three cooked eggs, three kinds of cheese, olives, veggies, labneh, and other delights.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout.

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If you’re craving Mediterranean food, then a visit to Desert Moon Grill is in order. There’s no shortage of dishes to choose from, ranging from kebabs to seafood to an array of vegetarian items. We recommend starting with an order of Baba Ghanouj or Samosas. After a Tabbouleh Salad, tuck into a Chicken Kufta Kebab. But the most memorable part of your meal is the bread, which is always piping hot when it arrives at the table. With attentive service and a festive atmosphere, this is a great spot for a special occasion. After your meal, wander over to Knafeh Cafe and pick up a pastry to take home.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout and delivery.

El Mahroosa Restaurant & Cafe
El Mahroosa Restaurant & Cafe

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With the goal of bringing a little bit of Egypt to Orange County, El Mahroosa is both a restaurant and hookah lounge located at the southern tip of Little Arabia. The name translates from Arabic to mean “the protected” or “the guarded,” and El Mahroosa is also the oldest active yacht in the world. You can’t go wrong with the Chicken Mendi or Lamb Biryani, and be sure to pace yourself as a selection of desserts awaits you. The Om Ali, a bread pudding made with puff pastry and topped with pistachios, is a favorite. But it is highly rivaled by a good old-fashioned Banana Split.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, takeout available, and delivery via Postmates, Caviar, and DoorDash.

Al-Amir Bakery
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Al-Amir Bakery’s flatbreads are legendary, or at least they should be. Known as Mana’eesh and resembling a personal pizza, toppings include cheese, chicken, and various meats. Try the Zaatar and Cheese Flatbread, which is sprinkled with sumac and sesame seeds, or the Calzone stuffed with a special blend of white cheese. Don’t be surprised if this place is bustling when you arrive, but there is ample seating and counter service available. The original bakery opened in 2002 in Brookhurst Plaza, but after a fire destroyed its original location in 2009 it moved to a larger space right next to Ralph’s.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout and delivery.

Zait and Zaatar
Zait and Zaatar

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Serving authentic Lebanese cuisine for over a decade, Zait & Zaatar is a family establishment that doubles as a bakery. It offers a variety of Z bowls, salads, wraps, and sandwiches, with appetizers such as Spicy Potatoes vying for your attention. Wraps are served on fresh Saj bread, and include options like halloumi cheese and sheesh tawook. Even the olive oil comes straight from the family farm back home. If the line is any indication, diners approve of the friendly vibe and quality food at affordable prices. Don’t miss the secret tea section next to the entrance, and be sure to partake in the many mezza options.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout, delivery via DoorDash.

Aleppo's Kitchen
Aleppo’s Kitchen

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Aleppo’s Kitchen celebrates the cuisines of Syria, Turkey, and Armenia with a menu that serves up generous portions. Featuring six different kinds of Kibbeh and just as many Kabobs, one of the stars is Khash-Khash, a minced and spiced meat that is char-grilled over mesquite and served with a spicy tomato sauce. Dine on the outdoor patio or enjoy your meal indoors, but be sure to order the Qatayef, an Arabic dumpling that’s filled with nuts or cream, slathered in honey, and dusted with pistachios. During the month of Ramadan, Aleppo’s hosts an all-you-can-eat Mediterranean Iftar buffet that is served to hundreds of people breaking their fast.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, curbside pickup and delivery available by calling 714-790-1484. Delivery via GrubHub is also available.

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Al-Tannour is an Iraqi restaurant that serves an array of cooked meats, appetizers, and entrees along with a side of stellar customer service. Their specialty is Masgouf, a fish dish that is served with tilapia or zbeidi, but another favorite is Musakhan, roasted chicken served over tannour bread. The menu also has vegetarian options, from hummus to fattoush to falafel. The kebabs are flavorful and grilled perfectly, served on a bed of rice. Accompanying every meal is khubz, a thick, crispy flatbread that’s larger than your plate.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout.

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Palestinian-owned and operated with both halal and vegan options, Sababa Falafel is your healthy alternative. Try the Falafel Makali pita, colorfully layered with fried eggplant, potato, cauliflower, and red cabbage, and covered with tahini sauce. Planning a party? Order the Sababa Family Pack, which includes falafel, pitas, salad, and hummus. There is no indoor seating available, so be prepared to dine at one of the highly-coveted patio tables or take your order home with you. On a hot day, try a refreshing Karkaday, a tea made with hibiscus flowers.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, order online for takeout and delivery.

Cairo Restaurant & Cafe
Cairo Restaurant & Cafe

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Come for a delicious assortment of Egyptian and Mediterranean dishes, and stay for the hookah experience at Cairo Restaurant & Cafe. Here you’ll find Stuffed Pigeons with Grits, a favorite Egyptian dish, alongside the vegetarian Koshary, a mishmash of chickpeas, rice, lentils, and pasta sauteed in onions and garlic. But that’s not all—other options include a Mesakaa Casserole and Sayadeya Fish. So satisfy your culinary curiosity at this restaurant, where you can relax among vibrant red decor and soak in the soft hypnotic beats flowing through the speakers.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome, reservations available for parties of 10 or more. Order online for takeout.

Based in Southern California, Danielle Bauter is a freelance writer who focuses on travel, LGBTQ, and culinary topics. Her writing has appeared in a variety of print and digital publications including Thrillist, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Fodor’s Travel. Follow her travels on IG @missbauterfly and read more of her work at daniellebauter.com.

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