A Guide to Tehrangeles, Los Angeles’s Pocket of Iranian Culture
The crackling pops of saffron-colored rice frying at the bottom of an old pot was the sound of dinner in my household growing up. The intense aroma of an herb-based stew called ghormeh sabzi wafted through the rooms as it simmered for hours. These are some of the most evocative memories of my childhood. Like most American-born Iranians, it is likely I won’t walk the streets of Tehran in the near future and see the crowded Grand Bazaar where my parents would buy roasted pistachios, or stroll alongside the Darband River where local teenagers hang out. But the intense flavors of Persian cuisine are forever ingrained in me—my connection to my Iranian roots has been cultivated by way of food and the close-knit community in my hometown of Los Angeles.
Iran is a country with a complicated history and people that have been widely misunderstood and entangled in geopolitical turmoil. It is estimated that nearly 2 million immigrants left Iran in exile during the 1979 Islamic Revolution hoping for a better future. Over 500,000 of them have found refuge in L.A., where they are now part of the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran. “My family and probably a lot of families that flee their country think they’re going to go back,” says Maz Jobrani, an Iranian American comedian and actor in Los Angeles. The reality is most Iranians who left during that period would never return to their home country.
Many Iranian families settled in Southern California in the '70s, although large communities also exist in New York, Washington, and Texas. “I think it’s so funny how culturally similar we all are even though there’s so many of us dispersed across the world,” says Jasmin Larian Hekmat, founder and CEO of fashion brand Cult Gaia.
Since the first Persian business opened in LA in the early '70s, on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue, the area has become a hotbed for succulent kabobs and expensive ruby red saffron threads at specialty markets, earning Westwood the nickname Tehrangeles. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles officially recognized the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue as Persian Square.
To truly understand the essence of our culture, one must sit down for a meal. “Everything revolves around food for us,” says Larian Hekmat. This local guide to the Iranian neighborhoods in Los Angeles will give you a little taste of the intimate community that surrounds them—through, of course, what many consider to be the best Persian food scene in the country.
Kabobs are a staple of Persian cuisine.
Where to eat
On a drab strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, Darya is a no-fuss restaurant serving what many locals claim to be the juiciest kabobs. Order the naderi soltani, which is a combination of the koobideh (ground beef) and barg (filet mignon) skewers, or go lighter with the salmon kabob. However you order, the restaurant "transports you to Tehran,” says Sam Nazarian, founder and CEO of the food and beverage platform C3. He also loves the tahdig—the burnt rice delicacy of my childhood.