Exploring Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Egyptian Cuisine and More - Olive Tree Restaurant [Thoughts + Pics]

Olive Tree Restaurant in Anaheim’s Little Arabia neighborhood is one of those places that might be easy to overlook.

Glancing over the menu at Olive Tree and it’s easy to see this as a generic type of “Middle Eastern Restaurant,” as the Appetizers section lists some commonly found offerings such as Hummos, Tabbouleh, Falafel and Stuffed Grape Leaves. The regular Plates section reads just as generic with Beef or Chicken Shawerma and various Kebabs.

But it’s their Daily Specials section of the menu that makes Olive Tree shine.

Opened over a decade ago by Yusuf Abdo, while it ostensibly bills itself as a Palestinian restaurant, the Daily Specials that Yusuf has added to the menu cover his favorite dishes from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as well.

We first visited Olive Tree years ago, and since that time it’s moved across the plaza to its current location and it has undergone a remodel along with a more eye-catching menu, that’s easier to spot all of their Daily Specials. They serve specific dishes on specific days of the week.

Lentil Soup:

Earthy, flavorful, more aggressively seasoned than the Lentil Soups we’ve had at the Persian restaurants around Westwood.

Kabseh Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices with Raisins, Served with Lamb Shanks) - (Friday & Saturdays Only):

The enthusiastic person who introduced this dish to us turned out to be the original Owner & Chef, Yusuf Abdo, who developed these recipes growing up in the Middle East and further refined here in America. He mentions that the Kabseh Rice dish is a popular dish of Saudi Arabia.

Taking a bite of the Kabseh Rice: Flavor explosion! The menu description of “17 Different Spices” is spot-on. It’s incredible. Yusuf remained tight-lipped on his family recipe. :wink: We detected Black Pepper, Cardamom, maybe Cumin and Cloves, amongst the spice blend. The Raisins slow cooked with the Rice were reconstituted, fluffy and adding little bits of sweetness here and there. It was STUNNING! :heart:

As much as I love Persian Rice dishes, this Saudi Arabian Kabseh Rice just had so much more flavor, at least the one served here at Olive Tree. :blush: (Thanks @Eater15!)

And the Lamb Shanks! This Kabseh Rice is served with 2 gigantic Slow Stewed Lamb Shanks (cooked for over 5 hours), and it shows. It’s succulent, tender, meaty, moist and SO GOOD! :heart:

This portion feels like it was made as the perfect “appetizer” for @J_L and @PorkyBelly, our legendary FTC eaters. :wink:

2nd Visit:

Freekeh Soup:

I love Freekeh Wheat whenever we’ve tried it on menus around L.A. The Freekeh Soup is a touch more savory, lighter and less earthy than the Lentil Soup. Both were great. :slight_smile:

Kibbeh (Deep Fried Bulgur Cracked Wheat, Stuffed with Spiced Ground Beef & Onions):

Beautiful spicing (not heat), the Bulgur exterior is crispy-crunchy and gives way to a very zesty Ground Beef & Onions mixture. Wonderful! :blush:

Chicken Shawerma (Strips of Seasoned Marinated Chicken Breast, Slowly Cooked on a Skillet. With Hummos, Rice, Green Salad & Tahini Sauce):

On this visit, against our better judgement, we wanted to try something from their regular Entrees section. Their Chicken Shawerma was fine. Nothing really outstanding, not bad either. The Chicken Breast strips were tender, not overcooked, but with it being a pan sauteed version, it lacked the appealing aspects of the ones cooked on a spit.

Their Hummos wasn’t overly pureed, tasting of a delicate earthiness and creaminess.

Kabseh Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices with Raisins, Served with Lamb Shanks) - (Friday & Saturdays Only):

As amazing as the first time we tried it! The blend of 17 Spices creates this pretty spectacular spectrum of flavors that all work together, with the fluffy, moist Rice. Our friends were just as blown away when they took a bite. :slight_smile:

Their 2 huge Stewed Lamb Shanks were just as mouth-wateringly succulent and tender as before. :heart:

3rd Visit:

Ful Medames (spelled “Foul Medammas” on the menu) (Slow Cooked Fava Beans, Seasoned with Garlic, Salt & Green Hot Sauce Topped with Garbanzo Beans):

Our server mentions it’s one of her favorite dishes to eat growing up in Saudi Arabia, and said it was also found in Palestine, Egypt and other nearby countries.

Olive Tree’s Ful (or “Foul”) Medammas is wonderful: It’s a fragrant, warming earthiness, garlicky, with a nice Chili heat, much more nuanced than their Lentil or Freekeh Wheat Soups (which are nice, this Ful is just even better). :blush:

Kabseh Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices with Raisins, Served with Lamb Shanks) - (Friday & Saturdays Only):

We couldn’t stop ordering their Kabseh Rice! It is THAT good. I love a good Baghali Polo, but I found myself craving Olive Tree’s Kabseh Rice with Lamb Shanks. On this 3rd visit, their Kabseh Rice was just as consistently fantastic as before. :heart:

4th Visit:

Freekeh Soup:

As lightly earthy and flavorful as the previous try.

Hummos (Pureed Garbanzo Beans with Tahini, Lime Juice & Garlic):

They ran out of small Appetizer dishes on this visit, so all of our Apps were served in To-Go plates. The Hummos was a rustic puree, not overly tart like some versions, earthy, not as great as Bavel’s version, but tasty.

Alayet Banadora (A Mix of Sauteed Pan Fried Onions, Tomatoes & Mediterranean Herbs):

This dish sounds pretty straightforward, but it was a nicely seasoned, and Herb & Spice blend elevated the Sauteed Onions and Tomatoes beyond their basic ingredients. This went great with some of their Pita Bread (mass produced variety, but served warmed).

Baba Ghanoush (Pureed Eggplant with Tahini, Labneh, Lime Juice & Garlic):

Surprisingly smooth, creamier in some ways than their Hummos, this was a bit more aggressively seasoned with the Lime Juice and Garlic than their Hummos.

Mansaf (Jordan’s National Dish) (Lamb Shoulder Cooked in a Hot Yogurt Broth, Served on a Bed of Rice and Yogurt Broth on the Side) - (Fridays & Saturdays Only):

We’ve never had this Jordanian National Dish before, but were really excited to try it. Mansaf might sound strange at first (Lamb stewed in Yogurt?!), but taking a bite, what you get are tender morsels of Stewed Lamb, with this incredible tart-savory quality from the Jameed Broth. Jameed is a type of fermented dried Yogurt according to our server, and it tastes nothing like the usual “Yogurt” we have here in America.

The additional Jameed Broth served on the side is poured on top of the Stewed Lamb and Rice, and we couldn’t stop eating this! :heart:

Kabseh Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices with Raisins, Served with Lamb Shanks) - (Friday & Saturdays Only):

Just awesome! Same as the previous 3 visits. :heart:

5th Visit:

Mloukhia (or Molokhiya) (Minced Jute Leaves Stewed with Garlic & Cooked with Boneless Chicken Breast. Served with Plain Rice and Lemon Wedges):

olivetree_071

olivetree_072

I remember an Egyptian co-worker of mine talking lovingly of their favorite Egyptian dish growing up, and that was Molokhiya. Olive Tree’s version is pretty wonderful: The Stewed Minced Jute Leaves create a slippery texture (like Okra), that some might consider “slimy” but served piping hot in this Stew form, it was just delicious! :heart:

It had a nice green, vegetal taste, not as minerally as Spinach, not as heavy as Kale, but just a satisfying, savory Stew quality in each sip. :blush: If there was one complaint, it was that the Chicken Breast morsels could’ve been a bit more tender, but otherwise this was great.

Lentil Soup:

olivetree_068

Idraa Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices Cooked with Garbanzo Beans, Sliced Onions & Garlic, Served with Stewed Lamb Shanks):

The Idraa Rice while also boasting 17 Different Spices, tastes different from the Kabseh Rice. The Idraa seems to have more of a Turmeric / Saffron quality to it, still peppery and zesty, but different. We felt the Kabseh was bolder, but the Idraa was still tasty. Their 5-Hour Stewed Lamb Shanks were still amazing, moist, tender, fall off the bone delicious! :heart:

Service is very casual, but the staff all seem friendly.

Olive Tree Restaurant in Little Arabia has been a real wonderful experience each time we’ve gone. Be sure to skip past the entire regular Entrees section of the menu and focus on their Daily Specials, where you’ll find amazing, mouth-watering dishes like the Saudi Arabian Kabseh Rice (Flavored Basmati Rice with 17 Different Spices with Lamb Shanks), or Jordan’s National Dish, Mansaf (Lamb Shoulder Cooked in this amazing Jameed Yogurt Sauce). We loved their Ful Medames (or “Foul Medammas”), and their Mloukhia (Minced Jute Leaves Stewed with Garlic & Cooked with Boneless Chicken Breast) was another standout.

I still hope to stop by on other days of the week, when that’s the only time they’re serving Sayadieh Samak (Basmati Rice with 22 Different Spices served with Fish), or Dawoud Basha an Arabian dish (that seems popular all over the Levant), and Ouzi Rice (a popular dish in Lebanon and beyond, Flavored Basmati Rice with 15 Different Spices, Ground Beef, Carrots & Peas), and more. They sound wonderful.

In the meantime, we can at least enjoy their fantastic succulent 5 Hour Stewed Lamb Shanks with the Kabseh Rice on Saturdays. :wink:

Olive Tree Restaurant
518 S. Brookhurst St., #1
Anaheim, CA 92804
Tel: (714) 535-2878

12 Likes

Wish there was a place like this in LA proper, looks so good

3 Likes

Hi @skramzlife,

Definitely agree. If Olive Tree were closer, it’d be in our regular rotation. At this point it’s a good excuse to head south once in a while (and maybe combine it with other places for a nice bang x bang). :slight_smile:

If you’re looking for some dessert stop by Chee Sweet. It’s in the same plaza on Brookhurst as the Starbucks and Zait n Zataar. Great little Lebanese pastry shop. Don’t buy any of the pre packaged stuff. We love all of their various types of baklava. They have a lot of other desserts like knafeh and many others I’m not familiar with.

2 Likes

Hi @js76wisco,

Thanks for the rec! :slight_smile: Glad to hear it’s nearby, so that sounds like a great bang x bang next time we’re in the area. Fresh made Baklava! :slight_smile:

I don’t really recommend the sayadiyah (sp?) simply because the fish they serve is tilapia, but since you mentioned your love of freekeh, they do have a weekly special freekeh w/ the lamb shanks or chicken that’s very good.

The ouzi, breyani and magloobeh and mandi are all just more iterations of seasoned rice w/ lamb or chicken. For my money the kabsa is the best of those options with the idraa in second and the rest tied for third, but it’s fun to try them all. None are bad.

Nice review of a consistently great, timeless restaurant

1 Like

Thanks @Eater15. :slight_smile:

Good to know your recs. Yes, Kabsa Rice was our favorite as well! :slight_smile: And Idraa was our 2nd favorite of the rice dishes.

BTW, have you tried their Shakshouka? Curious how that is.

And any other standouts you’d recommend? Thanks.

Me too!

1 Like

Not been yet but there is a place on Airdrome and La Cienega called Oasis that offers a selection of Jordanian dishes on its evening menu. The day menu looks to be more the usual pan-Middle Eastern fare.

2 Likes

I have not tried that.

Now that I live out of town, I pretty much go back to Olive Tree and Z&Z for the most part (or Forn al Hara which is another bakery, similar quality to Z&Z, I like it a little less but it’s in the same strip mall as Olive Tree so it’s convenient.)

Maybe you should check out El Mahroosa? I definitely think OT is better, but they also make a good kabsa/mandi/breyani and they also have the best version of koshari around. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically rice lentils, noodles and chickpeas with a tomato sauce and lots of fried onions. Egyptian dish. So, similar to OT, a notch lower on my list for sure, but also undoubtedly an enjoyable place to eat.

I also like the falafel wraps at Sahara, but that’s a way more fast foody kind of thing, I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for it. I mean, you can find decent falafel sandwiches without too much trouble.

Oh yeah I almost forgot, there’s another restaurant/hookah bar (I wouldn’t be too put off by that – if you go in the daytime you can eat without people smoking anywhere near you) called Cairo Restaurant. Same deal, chefs special menu with much of the same dishes. They have koshari too, since it’s an Egyptian place obviously. It’s good, but also no OT. It’s been a while, actually. I’m starting to wonder if I mixed El Mahroosa and Cairo up. Maybe you can clear that up though!

2 Likes

In the valley, We go here, Kobee Factory, for these, after Mr. Gold reviewed them. Tiny little place, order at counter.

4 Likes

Hi @Eater15,

Oh you’re out of town now? Darn. Thanks for the suggestions on additional restaurants in the area. I’ll have to check them out next time we’re down south. :slight_smile: The koshari sounds delicious!

Thanks for the reminder @Gr8pimpin. :slight_smile: I had this bookmarked but haven’t made the drive yet. What are your recommended dishes you like there besides the Kibbeh? Thanks.

Has anybody been here? It’s right down the street from OT and ZZ. I’ve actually been here a few times mostly for their naploeans and baklava. Since Cheesweet opened up I have not been back. I know nothing about Syrian ice cream but heard the segment on KCRW and am very intrigued.

Ahem!!

3 Likes

The LA TImes Daily Dish has a nice video interview and demo of how this is made.

1 Like

The LA TImes Daily Dish has a nice video interview and demo of how this is made.

It’s been awhile but for me the standout is the mjadara. Shish tawook is good, all the kabobs with their subtle differences in spice to other regions are worthy. Stuffed grape leaves.

People ordering lots of chicken shawarma and beef shawarma sandwiches.

My wife loves the hummus.

It’s a small place. Maybe 6-8 tables?

2 Likes

made plans to meet here with my foodiest buddies who live in OC. cant wait

2 Likes

Nice @Nemroz. I hope you make it on a Fri or Sat when they serve the Kabseh Rice w/ Lamb Shanks. :slight_smile:

1 Like