Sunday, July 6, 2014

Garlic Sauce Greatness at Zena's?

Zena's Lebanese Cuisine
2094 N. Tustin Rd.
Orange, CA 92865

Katie used to work in Ontario, and although the one and a half hour drive was killing her, she did find one benefit to the drive. Near her office was a Lebanese restaurant that her and her coworkers used to frequent. She claimed that the garlic sauce that they had there was medicinal, and could cure anything that ailed her. Now that her company has moved back to OC, she has been on a quest to find an OC equivalent to that garlic sauce. She was hoping it would be found at Zena's Lebanese Cuisine.

We were going out with our friends Alex and Jaszlyn. Alex is not really a fan of Mediterranean food, but I know his fiance is, so I searched for a place we could meet in between us, and Zena's came up as being highly rated. A lot of the reviewers mention their love of this family run business, and the way that they treat you like family. We did not receive that kind of welcome, probably because we were with Alex, but everyone was still very nice when we walked in at just after 6 on a recent Wednesday night.

Zena's has been in business for over 30 years, and is located just across the street from Orange Mall, and in the same shopping center as Staples and French's Bakery. The restaurant is bigger than it appears from the outside, with about thirty or so tables. There was some light, what I assumed to be Lebanese music playing over the speakers. The restaurant was not too crowded during our visit, but there was a slow trickle of customers making their way inside during our two hour stay here.

The menu at Zena's is pretty large, but very easy to follow for novice Lebanese eaters, such as myself. The menu does a nice job of explaining what the dishes are, and if you're embarrassed about messing up the name of the item you want to order, you also have the option to order by number. I butchered the name of my entree, but at least I tried. Let's see if Katie has found her ultimate garlic sauce here at Zena's.

Of course before we get to the garlic sauce, we had to try the Humus Bettheen ($9.95). Humus is something that is pretty mainstream, but for those of you that are not sure what it is, it's mashed up garbanzo beans, mixed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and other assorted spices. This version was pretty good texture wise, but kind of bland when it came to flavor. Not bad, but I expected a little more from the humus. The pita this came with was fresh, and a good vessel for the humus.

As I was reading reviews before coming to Zena's, one thing people kept talking about was the Arnabeet ($10.95). This fried cauliflower was worth all the praise that it gets. Think of this as Lebanese fair food. The cauliflower was fried, but not dripping in grease, with a nice crunchy texture to it. It was served with a tahini sauce, which could have been a little thicker, but still did a good job coating the cauliflower here. Don't skip this appetizer.

For someone that is not really into Mediterranean cuisine, Alex sure did eat this Beef Kabob ($22.95) pretty quickly. This plate came with two skewers of marinated top sirloin, rice, and humus. Alex is a man of few words, but he did mention that the meat here was pretty tender, and the rice was okay.

Just like her husband to be, Jaszlyn went with a kabob plate as well. She selected the ever popular Chicken Kabob ($21.95). This plate also came with two skewers, featuring boneless chicken breast, rice and humus. She liked this plate, but has had better chicken kabobs at other places.

Katie is pretty predictable when eating in Lebanese restaurants, so it was no surprise that she had the Shawarma ($19.95). Shawarma is a marinated rotisserie beef, that's sliced, then served alongside onions, tomatoes, mint, humus, and tahini sauce. Katie also wanted garlic sauce to go along with this naturally. She liked the flavor of the beef, which had a tanginess to it. All of the items on the plate interacted so nicely together that Katie could not see herself getting anything else on future visits to Zena's The garlic sauce served here did not live up to the one that she had near her work in Ontario though. This one was a little on the thinner side, and the garlic was not as pronounced. The great garlic sauce search continues.

I went a little out of my comfort zone on this night, when I ordered Kafta B'Seneyee ($20.95). This dish was definitely new to me, but it got my attention from the description on their menu right away. It's a lean ground beef that's mixed with parsley, onions, and other spices to create a Lebanese kind of meatloaf. It's then baked with tomatoes, potatoes, and a tomato sauce, and served with rice. This was a pretty hearty meal. The potatoes were fork tender, while the meat had a dense meatball feel to it. The tomato sauce was surprisingly light, and this came out of the kitchen scalding hot. I would get this again, but maybe when the weather turns a little cooler. I could imagine this would be great on those cooler nights we have in OC, you know, when the temps get down into the low 60's.

None of the four of us really had any big time issues with the food we ordered on this night. It was all pretty good, but it did not really blow any of us away. I would not classify this as destination dining, but if we were in the area again, and wanted to have Lebanese, we would not hesitate to come back here. We all did think that the prices were a little on the high side here though, maybe by as much as five dollars a plate. The service was pretty good on this night. They were not totally busy, so our waiter was around enough to keep tabs on anything that we may have needed. Glad we got a chance to catch up with our friends Alex and Jaszlyn, and we look forward to continuing our search for OC's greatest garlic sauce.

Out of five chairlifts, (because I recently found out that Lebanon lays claim to six ski resorts in the country, so it's possible to ski in the morning, and swim at the beach in the afternoon), five being best to zero being worst, Zena's Lebanese Cuisine gets 3 chairlifts.

Zena's Lebanese Cuisine does not have a website, but you can find other reviews and information on their Yelp page here:

Zena's Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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