Outdoor dining in Glendale has lots of delicious options along Brand Boulevard
The open-air restaurant streets that have popped up across Southern California — Citrus Avenue in Covina, Greenleaf Avenue in Whittier, Union Street in Old Pasadena, Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach, Manhattan Avenue in Manhattan Beach and so many more — is perhaps the best new trend to emerge from the ashes of the pandemic.
Along Brand Boulevard in Glendale, the street is not narrowed by the expansion of restaurants onto the sidewalk and into the gutter. It’s not been turned into one of those great back-alley food streets in Hong Kong or Taipei. Rather, it’s a wide boulevard that continues to be a wide boulevard — only in this case, with a multitude of restaurants, radiating for the most part north and south of California Avenue.
And though the street may not be arrow and atmospheric, it sure is ethnically diverse! Not all the cuisines of SoCal are represented, but many sure are. And they are represented by some of my favorite restaurants, making a trip to Brand an excess of edible riches.
Let’s begin with Porto’s Bakery (315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-956-5996, www.portosbakery.com). There’s a crowd in front of Porto’s all day and all night, waiting for their bags of food, which they either take home, or eat at one of the many tables set up by the Greater Downtown Glendale Association, under blue umbrellas with the restaurant names on them, beyond concrete barriers that read “al fresco.”
What they hand out are the bakery’s easily identifiable butternut yellow bags, filled with boxes of wonders and joys — pastries that are gloriously rich, Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, Milk ‘n Berries Tres Leche, world-class carrot cake and more. I’m glad to wait patiently for the house iced coffee, which puts Starbucks to shame.
I figure they drink a lot of rum down in Old Cuba. But they probably put away a lot of coffee too. A strong cuppa goes well with the chicken empanadas. But then…everything does.
With the singular exception of Carousel (304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-246-7775, www.carouselrestaurant.com/view-menu/glendale), the many Middle Eastern restaurants of Glendale are small operations, some no bigger than hamburger stands where kebabs and kofta are served along with hot dogs and burritos. But in the case of Carousel (which has another branch on the eastern edge of Hollywood), what we have is the Spago of Lebanese-Armenian cooking.
The menu offers some 50 dishes as appetizers— hot, cold and, in several cases, raw. They’ve got six kinds of hummus alone — plain, mixed with chopped pickles, topped with fava beans, topped with beef and onions, topped with pine nuts and topped with soujouk.
The Armenian sausage is Proustian memory food for every immigrant soul. There are two salads of lamb tongue, three preparations using the classic Armenian yogurt cheese called labneh (one a California version made with jalapeños!).
Thoughtfully, the restaurant helps out those who are confused with pre-ordained “Family Parties.” The Hafleh Beiruti includes 14 appetizers, followed by three entrees, along with rice and bulghur pilaf. The Mezza Zahleh is an all-appetizer feast, moving through 18 different dishes. The Carousel Feast has the same 18 appetizers, along with three entrees, rice and bulghur pilaf. Even the à la carte dishes come with enough sides to make for a very substantial meal.
To wash it all down, there’s Almaza beer from Lebanon, and Kotayk beer from Armenia. And along with various Middle Eastern desserts, there’s an Oreo Fudge Delight.
Brand Boulevard offers so much more. If you feel like madcap sushi rolls, head for Oishi Sushi (308 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-241-0133) or Crazy Rock ‘n Sushi (239 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-396-5604, www.crazyrockinsushigd.com). If you want your chicken crisp and spicy, there’s Hot Wings Café (314 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-247-4445, www.hotwingscafe.net) and Yo Lo Hot Chicken (303 1/2 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-714-5555, www.yolohotchicken.com). Then you can cool yourself with an exotic smoothie from Da Juice Bar (305 1/2 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-243-6200, www.dajuicebarus.com).
Feel like heading for South America? There’s Peruvian cooking at Lola’s (230 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-956-5888, www.lolasperuvianla.com) and Argentinian beef at El Morfi Grill (241 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-547-4420, www.glendaleelmorfigrill.com).
There are curries galore at All India Café (316 N. Brand Blvd, Glendale; 818-937-9966, www.allindiacafeca.com), along with tandoori to spare. You feel like Southeast Asian, a little Vietnamese chow at Pho Hut (312 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-247-6955, www.phohut.com) should do the job.
And bless ’em: Damon’s Steakhouse (317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-507-1510, www.damonsglendale.com) is serving its iconic oversized meals. Which feel a tad strange eaten on the boulevard and not in the cool, cinematic gloom within.
But then, we live in curious times. Making a picnic of Damon’s steaks is certainly one way of facing down COVID-19. … Take that, you pesky germs!