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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Editors' Note: On this page in our December, 2010 issue we published a review of Hummus King in Valley Village. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed. Z: The name says it all! Hummus King, an informal Israeli eatery that opened in July 2010 in Valley Village, is truly king of the hill when it comes to hummus. While most restaurants featuring Middle Eastern foods pride themselves on their singular hummus, Hummus King's owner Jason Aballi tops them all with not just one kind of hummus, but seven distinctly different varieties.

R: Truly amazing is that he's not going to stop with just seven. He plans to continue introducing new varieties to dazzle his patrons. This creative restaurateur set out on a journey traveling throughout Israel, Jordan, and Greece to study the different styles and seasonings that make each region's hummus stand apart. He learned the basic hummus technique in Nazareth and says the Palestinians know hummus best.

Hummus King Z: The interesting thing is that this the hummus idea has been incubating in Jason's head for 14 years before finally coming to fruition with this restaurant. As soon as we came into the restaurant, we approached the open kitchen and order counter and were encouraged to taste all the different hummus varieties. Each one is named for the region where that style is popular.

R: First we tasted Jaffa, then Jerusalem, Akko, and King Style, followed by hummus spiced with Jalapeno, and another well-seasoned bite called Eastern Spice. Sampling, we were told, would help us decide which we liked best.

Z: Trying to distinguish our favorite was next to impossible. Jaffa is smooth as silk; Acco is thicker, yet smooth and creamy; Jerusalem has a slightly chunky texture; King Style is warmed with spices and includes garbanzos, while Eastern Spice is enhanced with thyme and za'atar. The jalapeno, made from hot red peppers, is what you would expect from jalapeno--good and spicy.

R: Our problem was that we loved them all. But actually, that was no problem at all. To satisfy our curiosity and our taste buds, we simply placed an order that included the Jaffa, Jerusalem, Akko, Jalapeno, Eastern Spice, and yet another, Green Tahini. Soon we were basking in a sea of hummus and embracing every blissful bite.

Hummus King
Z: Hummus King features other specialties in addition to their awesome hummus. Falafel, dark brown, deep-fried balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, are made from garbanzos, Middle Eastern herbs, and a hint of spice. These are crunchy on the outside and divinely soft, pleasantly textured, and richly flavored on the inside.

R: We also ordered the Fire Balls, their Falafel with the spice cranked up a couple of notches. They're a home run for those drawn to the blazing heat of a healthy jolt of jalapeno. Then, of course, we had to taste the Vegetarian Shwarama that Jason makes from scratch. Unlike the usual schwarma made from shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, or beef, Hummus King's is made with soy and Middle Eastern spices. Its pleasantly chewy texture resembles the real thing and gives it a hearty quality, while the spices turn it into a rare and delicious treat.

Hummus King Z: Exactly. While we've enjoyed many meals of falafel and hummus, this is the only vegetarian shwarama we've ever encountered. It seems Jason is taking his patrons into a daring new veggie land where no man has gone before. These exceptional specialties can be ordered individually or included in voluptuous pita sandwiches or combination plates like the #8 Falafel Platter that includes a plate of hummus, eight falafel balls, two side dishes, two pita breads, and a fountain drink. This value-packed combo meal is a terrific deal for $9.95. Patrons could choose from white or whole-wheat pita.

R. The choices of sides that go with the combo meals feature Tabbouleh Salad, Fresh Chopped Salad, Sweet Potato Fries, Vegetarian Shwarama, French Fries, and Falafel Balls. An array of fresh salads in addition to those included in the sides provides even more choices. One with lots of Israeli flavor is the Fava Bean Salad combined with garbanzos.

Z: Because our attention was so focused on the extraordinary hummus, we simply couldn't have added another item to our meal. On our next visit we hope to delve into the Mediterranean Cabbage Salad composed of both red and green cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley, and dressed with lemony vinaigrette. Our favorite veggie turns up in the Mediterranean Eggplant Salad.

R: Hummus King is the only Middle Eastern restaurant we've encountered that offers Za'atar Salad, an attractive medley comprised of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion on fresh iceberg lettuce and dressed with a homemade za'atar dressing. For those unfamiliar with za'atar it's an aromatic blend of dried herbs and spices featuring dried thyme that may be accompanied with sesame seeds, pepper, anise, sumac, sunflower seeds, salt, chickpeas, and cumin. The herb and spice blend varies somewhat with each brand, but thyme is always in the forefront. Jason informed us that he plans to add more salads to his offerings.

Hummus King Z: Diners who love a hearty sandwich could consider the #6 Vegetarian Shwarama Sandwich or #5 Sabich Sandwich filled with fried Mediterranean eggplants, chopped vegetable salad, and potatoes and topped with green tahini and a winning curry-flavored spicy mango sauce.

R: Beverages include the usual suspects one can choose from the refrigerated case: bottled sodas, water, mineral water, and green tea, vitamin water, and even alcohol-free malt beer. Our simple tap water was brought to us in a colossal-size green Coca Cola-style glass that must have held a hearty 20 ounces.

Z: Hummus King is certified kosher, and everything at this restaurant is totally vegan with the exception of one item--hard-boiled egg that accompanies the Sabich Sandwich. Vegans can easily request it be left off the order. Entrée combinations range from $5.95 to $13.95, while individual hummus orders are available in small, regular, and large and range from $3.95 to $8.75 depending on size. Vegetarian Shwarama is priced from $4.75 to $9.75, Salads $4.95 to $8.75, Extras and Toppings $1.00 to $2.50, Beverages $1.25 to $2.95.

R: Hummus King has clearly set its goal to become the holy grail of hummus. Once you've tasted from this overflowing fountain of hummus, you'll agree it's anything but a ho hum experience.

Hummus King
12422 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village, CA 91607

Reviewed October 2010

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