photo credit: Jakob Layman
If you follow LA restaurants like a meteorologist does the weather, there's no doubt you know about Bavel and Bestia. Both of these Arts District establishments opened more than five years ago, and yet, you still can’t get a table at either spot without tracking down a reservation a week in advance.
Saffy’s, a glamorous kebab house in East Hollywood, is the latest restaurant from the Bestia and Bavel team. When you have restaurant siblings that are that popular, comparisons are inevitable—and in the case of Saffy’s, there’s a decent amount of shared DNA with Bavel. Much like its pita-pushing predecessor, Saffy’s serves a menu of pumped-up Middle Eastern-leaning dishes (including some life-changing hummus) in a bright and airy space that you’ll want to hang out in all night. But we're also not dealing with a carbon copy of Bavel transported across town. This Fountain Ave. restaurant is the younger, more carefree sibling who rebels against LA hot spot tropes: walk-ins are encouraged and accommodated (even if you have to wait for a bit), servers treat you like an old friend, and most dishes cost less than $25 yet still taste worthy of a special occasion.
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In short, you can think of Saffy’s as the Solange to Bavel’s Beyoncé—a bonafide star that has stepped out of her sibling’s shadow with a fresh perspective.
Located in an Art Deco corner building with street-facing windows, Saffy’s intimate dining room and spacious sidewalk patio are usually packed. Arrive early in the evening and you might see an older couple sipping orange wine seated in a booth next to Addison Rae. Somehow the people-watching gets even better after 10pm, when men in double-breasted blazers bump elbows with a loud birthday crew on its third round of vesper martinis.
The menu at Saffy’s is pretty straightforward. There are sections broken down into small plates, meat skewers, and a couple of larger entrees. As charming as ordering a table-covering spread of dips and salads to start might be, try not to get bogged down in appetizers. The luxuriously creamy hummus ful and mussels in coconut-turmeric broth should not be missed, but otherwise save room for a few juicy, marinated kebabs.
Cooked over a wood-fire grill that dominates one corner of the dining room, the kebabs arrive on intimidatingly pointy two-foot metal skewers. There are usually five different types or so available, including plump chunks of pork, bite-sized cubes of steak, and tender minced lamb mixed with pine nuts and parsley. Each one comes with a unique dip—like creamy mint yogurt, dill garlic aioli, or a smoky chile crisp—and a heap of housemade laffa. A server will instruct you to use the warm, fluffy bread like a baseball mitt to slide the sizzling meat off of skewers, taking care not to jab your tablemate. These simple, high-quality dishes are the best things on the menu, and skipping them would be about as wise as going to the beach without sunscreen.
Saffy's takes the polished service and meticulously detailed food of Bavel and transforms it into a more accessible luxury, resulting in a place you might go to a couple of times a month instead of once or twice a year. The buzzy dining room is manageable for a group of friends to get into without waiting around for hours, but intimate enough for a date night at the bar. Come to Saffy's for masterfully conceptualized Middle Eastern food you can eat with your hands and a fun scene that makes a three-hour meal feel like it flew by in thirty minutes.
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The shawarma at Saffy's is a mixture of perfectly marinated lamb and beef, neatly shaved into thin slices from a rotating wood-fired spit, then wrapped inside fresh laffa so it can be eaten sandwich-style. A bit of tomato, lettuce, tahini, spicy ajika sauce, and sumac-dusted onions are layered in for contrast—all of the textures and flavors work together like a family on a whitewater rafting excursion.
photo credit: Joseph Weaver
The broth in this seafood dish glows a bright mustard yellow, but doesn't taste overwhelming. The earthy and sweet turmeric is balanced out by ingredients like lime, coconut cream, and habañero to create a perfect little sun shower of an appetizer. The whole thing eats like a light, fragrant curry. We loved this little detail, too: the crunchy flatbread on top is sprinkled with ground dried mussels for some added brininess.
There are two hummus options at Saffy’s. One comes topped with pine nuts and the other with stewed chickpeas and a soft-boiled egg. They’re both superb, but you should go with the latter. The jiggly yolk blends with the velvety hummus, and the small mound of buttery, soft fava beans in the middle contributes some unexpected nuttiness. For scooping purposes, the hummus comes with a couple of slices of housemade brioche challah studded with sesame seeds.
Red Snapper Tagine
When the server opens the ceramic vessel that this dish is cooked in, a whiff of ginger and tomato wallops you in the face. Consider it a blessing. This red snapper stew’s spicy and pleasantly acidic broth is mellowed out by the sweet coconut rice that comes with it. If you're a table of four, it's an ideal entree to share, but if you’re with a smaller group, we’d probably recommend focusing on the small plates and skewers.
photo credit: Brigitte Neman
Grilled Lobster Skewer
At $36, this skewer isn't cheap, but it's worth every cent. Cut into chunks, coated in green harissa, then grilled to perfection, the juicy pieces of lobster tail glisten like a teen idol in a skincare commercial. There’s a dollop of serrano-lime yogurt on the side, but the meat is so incredibly tender it’s almost unnecessary. Like everything at Saffy’s, it’s a decadent luxury made to taste effortlessly simple.
Mixed Beef Cuts Shishlik
Of all the skewers on the menu, this is our favorite. The chunks of steak in this dish form a nine-part harmony of juiciness. Each tender nugget is charred on the outside, and cooked to a true medium-rare with just the right amount of pink inside. No meal here would be complete without one. For an herbaceous kick, dip into the accompanying mint yogurt drizzled with oregano oil.
This tightly shaped minced lamb skewer, which is mixed with pine nuts, parsley, and onions, has many layers of flavor to unpack. But what really hooks us is the balance of the seasonings. The sharp herbs harmonize with the juicy lamb and the nuts offer a bit of crunch. A squeeze of lemon, done just before that first bite, takes it all over the edge.
The dessert menu at Saffy’s isn’t as intricate as the one at Bavel, but when you have excellent soft serve, you don’t really need much else. The texture is smooth and silky and the rotating fruit-centric flavors change with the seasons—everything from the floral boysenberry to the tangy peach has left us in awe so far. Even if you’re stuffed after dinner, you should always find room for a few spoonfuls of this creamy frozen treat.