You probably have a list. Maybe it’s a multi-tabbed spreadsheet or just a piece of paper floating around your car, but somewhere, you’ve got an LA restaurant eating agenda. It might include places you’ve seen on the internet, restaurants your friends have told you about, and strip mall spots you’ve driven by hundreds of times. And it probably includes Bavel.
This is the second restaurant from the people behind Bestia - the Italian restaurant where LA has been eating dinner at weird hours (because you still can’t get in otherwise) since 2012. Bavel is like Bestia, and unlike most other places on your restaurant list, for one key reason. You don’t come to Bavel once to get a portrait-mode photo before mentally crossing it off and moving on to the next one - Bavel is a restaurant you’ll keep coming back to.
Bavel is in the Arts District, though slightly removed from most of the action, on a quiet corner in an old warehouse that still looks a little like a construction site. The room feels sunny even when you’re sitting down for your 10pm reservation, is full of plants hanging from the ceiling, and has a side patio that almost doubles the size of the restaurant. It’s a place you instantly want to hang out in, and also one that will immediately blur into the background once you start eating.
The Middle Eastern menu is mostly pumped-up versions of the classics - they’re not trying to reinvent baba ghanoush here, but the food isn’t quite traditional either. There’s hummus with duck ’nduja and foie gras with halva, and a lamb neck shawarma dish that’s so big it could be the only thing you order (it won’t be). Almost everything comes with some sort of pita, flatbread, or other carb vehicle to get food to your mouth, and all of them are fantastic. The menu is long - seeing as you shouldn’t skip any of the sections, it’s impossible to cover in a single visit. Which might have been a strategic move to get you back in here, but you need to try the tagine, so that’s going to happen anyway.
And really, everything about this place will have you plotting your return visit. The service is extremely friendly (although they do have a habit of instructing you on how to eat everything, including hummus), there isn’t a disappointing dish on the menu, and the room feels like a party whether you’re sitting at the charcuterie counter or in one of the big round booths.
Eating at Bavel isn’t about checking it off your list. You eat here because this is one of the most exciting restaurants in Los Angeles, and it feels like it’s going to stay that way. So make that 5pm reservation. And probably a follow-up one in a couple of months, just to be safe.
There are two hummus options at Bavel - one with duck ’nduja and one without. After eating both, we’re here to tell you to stick to the classic. It’s unbelievably creamy, comes with two different types of chili paste and pita that’s inevitably going to lead to the first moment where you’ll think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have had so much bread with that.”
If you always order the foie gras, you don’t need us to tell you to get this. But if you don’t always order the foie gras, know that you should be doing so here. It’s creamy, unusual, not so rich that you’ll be full after two bites, and kind-of like a pre-dinner dessert.
Bavel has a big wood-fired oven, so you shouldn’t skip the flatbread section. But you should focus on the malawach. It involves fried flatbread, grated tomato, herby creme fraiche, a soft-boiled egg, and a spicy strawberry zhoug sauce that there isn’t nearly enough of.
There isn’t much to this salad - it’s just a bunch of lettuce leaves, some thinly sliced turnips, and some za’atar sprinkled on top. Plus a rose water buttermilk vinaigrette, or, one of the best dressings you’ll ever put in your body.
This is a great charcuterie board, though not one that feels particularly Middle Eastern. At any other restaurant this would be a highlight, but there’s so much other great stuff to try that you only need to order it if you’re really in the mood for charcuterie.
We were talked into this dish on one of our visits, and we’ve never been more glad that we’re easily persuaded. The mushrooms come out on big skewers and taste like the grill. This is a good thing.
You’ll have a lot of different sauces over a meal at Bavel, but the eggplant tzatziki that comes under these perfectly cooked prawns might just be the best of the night.
This comes out looking very impressive - with the bone-in lamb neck laid on top of a huge piece of laffa bread - and only gets better from there. It’s a rich piece of meat, but add the fermented cabbage to your mini sandwich and your fancy shawarma turns into a G.O.A.T. shawarma.
We could tell you about the tagine - it’s good. But the couscous it comes with is even better. They’ll say it’s hand-rolled, which doesn’t really mean much to us, except that there is clearly a lot of butter involved and we would like some more right now.
Little round donuts that are good, but also if you still have room for chocolate donuts with sherry cream on the side, you’re possibly superhuman.
This dessert feels a little less overwhelming - flaky pastry filled with walnuts and apricot that taste even better for breakfast the next morning.