Daphne’s California Greek has been household name across Southern California for decades. With humble beginnings in San Diego, the Mediterranean fast-casual concept quickly evolved into a franchise with locations across the state. Now owned by Elite Restaurant Group, with brands such as Slater’s 50/50 and Paxti’s Pizza also under its wing, Daphne’s has gotten a facelift in both its modern décor and new menu novelties.
Growing up in North County San Diego, Daphne’s was a family staple for me. I was one of three children, and we had very different palates. Daphne’s was one of the few places my entire family could agree on, and our go-to dinner before or after catching a movie just across the way. It didn’t take long for me to find my ‘usual’: the spicy gyro pita, with Daphne’s signature fire feta—a creamy, spicy feta cheese mix—that’s simply addictive. And so it goes with the typical Daphne’s customer, coming back time after time for those lifelong favorites.
The historic customer base also poses a challenge for Daphne’s, which in turn is also looking to attract new customers with a revamped menu that reflects more of today’s food trends. Balancing the new and the old puts Daphne’s on somewhat of a tightrope, yet one that they’re getting pretty comfortable with.
Daphne’s added chicken shawarma to their menu not too long ago, and it’s been a smashing success. Cooked using a centuries-old technique and served with roasted bell peppers, feta and pesto, generous layers of succulent and just-spicy-enough meat go quite well wrapped in Daphne’s perfected warm pita bread. Then there’s the new pita burger series, which subs out a traditional bun for two of those warm pitas, with a grilled burger patty plus a variety of Mediterranean toppings, from gyro meat to that iconic fire feta.
The gyro fries are a must if you’re looking for Mediterranean-American indulgence, cooked with red onion and fire feta and topped with gyro meat. And if you’re wandering, you’ll find fries on menus all across Greece. On the more traditional side, Daphne’s plates and bowls bring a bit of old and new as well. Shrimp has recently made its way onto the menu, with a quality and excellent smokiness that you’d never guess would come from a fast-casual setting.
Daphne’s has held onto its classics as well, keeping their long-time loyalists happy. Their gyro meat is as good as ever, shaved from a vertical rotating spit that will have your mouth water. Biting into a gyro pita with that—you guessed it—fire feta, a portal of nostalgia opened back up. For more information, visit Daphnes.biz.
Newhall may be widely known as Hollywood’s Wild West, but Persia Lounge has had no trouble mixing things up with flare from The Middle East. Fall-off-the bone meats, rich hummus, saffron rice and seemingly endless lavash meld with belly dancing, hookah and live music for a holistic cultural experience. As little ol’ Downtown Newhall continues to expand and attract more attention from ‘Mainland LA’, it’s places like Persia Lounge that are bringing the area an elevated allure, not to mention great taste.
Persia Lounge’s humble setup speaks to its authenticity. An inviting, minimalist dining room wraps around the restaurant’s small enclosed kitchen and leads to the lounge in the back, where hookah, music and dancing proceed to run the show. Wall décor pays homage to ancient Middle Eastern décor, and even has some exposed brick painted on. But it’s the food you’re after, and it comes in heaps at Persia Lounge.
Nobody is going to leave here hungry. The inquiry is confirmed as the appetizer combo arrives with enough lavash bread to carb-load for a marathon. Creamy hummus and masto khiar [yogurt cucumber dip], shirazi salad with diced cucumber and tomato, and light Persian potato set the tone for a menu with just enough familiar territory for everyone to enjoy, and an abundance of potential for adventurous palates to seek new discovery.
Meat is clearly a treasured entity at Persia Lounge, with every dish rich in bold flavor and distinct identity. Take the baghale polo with lamb shank, which you could tear apart with your fingers if you wanted, served in an herbaceous tomato broth that magnifies the flavor profile further. Or the zereshk polo with chicken, a spectacular chicken kabob that seems like it’s been marinating for ages, with saffron rice and the fascinating addition of sour barberry. Then there’s your classic shish kabob, with juicy chunks of char-grilled beef.
If you’re looking for true Halal, this is one of the only shows in town. You’ll also be able to find beers and wines from Lebanon and Armenia, in addition to the labels we all know and love.
Persia Lounge and Restaurant is located at 24328 Main St, Newhall, CA 91321. Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Tue – Thu, 11 a.m. – midnight Fri – Sat and 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon. Average out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$40/person. For more information call (661) 259-4100 or visit Persia-Lounge.com.
Build-your-own is hot in the world of Middle Eastern cuisine, and Sajj is a prime example of the trend’s rising prominence. Sajj—named after the convex frying pan used for heating flatbreads—is steadily growing its presence across California, most recently opening in Rancho Santa Margarita. The Chipotle-meets-Middle East concept has seen great success across multiple locations in the Bay Area, and is on pace to do the same in Orange County.
Sajj has tweaked classic Middle Eastern flavors just enough to make them approachable for the masses. Steak and chicken shawarma, falafel, hummus and toum [Lebanese garlic sauce] are key staples, as well as a few fun additions like pomegranate-marinated chicken and roasted cauliflower. Spicy tahini, feta and even guacamole finish off wraps, pitas and bowls for new flavors with comfortingly familiar elements.
A plethora of locally sourced vegetables allows Sajj to become a healthier alternative as well. Fresh lettuce, arugula and kale from San Juan Bautista, tomatoes from Carlsbad, and cabbage from Santa Maria are just a few ingredients that go into Sajj’s veggie selections for wraps, pitas and bowls. Additionally, Sajj prides itself on sourcing meats with no hormones and no antibiotics.
Specialty drinks such as mint lemonade and tamarind add to the Sajj experience, as does the Sajj itself, where wraps are heated before staff build them in front of you.
Sajj Orange County is located at 22245 El Paseo Suite A, Rancho Santa Margarita CA 92688. Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. 7 days/week. Avg. out-the-door price for entrée and drink is ~$15/person. For more information call (949)-709-7779 or visit Sajj online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.