Mediterranean Mecca

A casual eatery debuts and earns rave reviews for combining old favorites with new preparations.

Our search for the world’s best hummus has ended. The creamiest, most flavorful version of the chick pea-based appetizer—in this case served alongside a soft, sesame-studded, piping hot, house-baked laffa bread—is at the new Mediterranean eatery Mizlala in Sherman Oaks. It was so good that this writer pressed owner Danny Elmaleh for his secret. Is it the subtle drizzle of tahini and fresh lemon juice on top? Is there a secret ingredient blended in the dip? The owner, who was politely coy, would only say: “We keep the chick peas warm through the entire preparation process and we use a French press.” Not sure that will help me much in my homemade versions, but I’ll certainly be back to Mizlala for more.

The restaurant is located in the old Simon’s Café space, next to the always-bustling Itzakaya. Danny, Simon’s eldest son, was previously the executive chef of Cleo in Hollywood and also worked for the high-end Melisse in Santa Monica. The Valley resident says his dad retired and, with a distinct vision in mind, the timing seemed right to take over.

GOOD EATS: Chef de cuisine Juan Carlos Carranza in Mizlala’s open kitchen.

“My wife and I love to go to restaurants when we are in San Francisco. We thought we’d love to have a casual “foodie” restaurant like so many of the ones you see there, right here in Sherman Oaks. We wanted locals to be able to come frequently. Like it’s no big deal.

That is why we don’t take reservations,” he explains.

We hit Mizlala “cold” (they didn’t know anyone in our party worked for a magazine) at 8:30 on a Saturday night. All the tables were taken. Danny’s wife, Justine, advised us that one would be clearing momentarily and indeed, less than five minutes later, we were seated in the prime, window “deuce.”  Justine described the menu as “Moroccan tapas-style plates that are small and medium-sized.”

Our meal was excellent from the get-go. First—complimentary, crisp, perfectly tart pickled veggies (Dare I say even better than my Armenian grandmother’s torschi?) served with two pestos. Next came a seasonal special: agnolotti filled with summer corn, drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The sweetness of the corn pleasantly dominated the pasta pocket. The slow-cooked lamb tagine, one of Simon’s recipes that Danny kept on the menu, was also delicious. It arrived in a flavorful broth that was dotted with raisins and apricots.

Chicken Tagine

“We use the shoulder, which has more tendon in it. When slow-cooked it becomes really tender,” says Danny.

Mizlala’s menu takes a contemporary twist with several entrees. One is the smoked paprika-infused boneless Moroccan fried chicken served with harissa aioli and apricot mustard dipping sauces. Other modern takes come from pasta dishes: pappardelle with oxtail, roasted bone marrow and gremolata, and farmer’s cheese ravioli with brown butter and slow-cooked, poached egg.

The eatery features an open kitchen with counter seats, as well as standard tables. A 14% tip is automatically added to each bill. Throughout our entire meal, Danny could be seen surveying each table—looking for any imperfections and checking with guests. It was the kind of attentive service one rarely experiences in restaurants these days. We inquired about leaving our standard 20% tip and were told it wasn’t necessary. We did it anyway.

4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks 818-783-6698
Open for dinner every evening except Monday

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