Isn’t it time already that Anaheim’s Little Arabia district was officially designated? The area around Brookhurst Street stretching from La Palma to Katella avenues has existed since the 1980s but truly exploded last decade with Islamic fashion stores, halal butchers, hookah shops, restaurants and even bookstores. But the city hasn’t erected a sign yet acknowledging one of the country’s largest concentration of Middle Easterners. And the enclave’s merchants are just beginning: Restaurants are undergoing face-lifts, expanding, or—in the case of Al Amir Bakery—returning from the dead.
Al Amir was a much-beloved sphiha shop, a place that sold just-baked flatbreads with toppings, a dish you can call Middle Eastern pizza without receiving too much of a browbeating. But its original location burned down last year, and the owners never gave any indication of whether they planned to open again. The excellent Forn Al Hara opened soon after in the same shopping plaza where Al Amir once stood, leading to more whispers that Al Amir would never return.
But a couple of months ago, a large yellow banner in a forlorn Ball Road shopping plaza announced Al Amir was reopening there. And the new version, like the proverbial phoenix, arose better than its original incarnation with more space, more ornate furnishings and photos of pre-civil war Beirut captioned in French hanging from the walls. Three different spices now sit on each table for your powdering purposes—sumac, chili flakes, and another spice that’s adobe-red but packs a sour, biting punch—and there’s even non-alcoholic beer next to cans of syrupy Vimto.
The owners are still settling into their new digs—the menu marquee hasn’t arrived yet, so folks must order from laminated takeout menus that still feature Al Amir’s old address. But their glorious sphihas (12 different choices) are as yummy as ever—made fresh and before your eyes, put in a massive oven that turns a mere disc of dough into a crunchy, soft treasure. A zaatar sphiha is probably the best: something about the desiccated multispice rub spread across baked flatbread is just perfect. I also enjoy the soujouk with cheese, the spicy Armenian-style chorizo mixing well with its salty counterpoint. And the cheese-and-egg sphiha tastes like the Levantine take on the breakfast burrito.
You can order other treats as well, such as sambouseks—empanadas containing luscious ground beef, or triangular versions stuffed with spinach or cheese. Those only go by the dozen right now, but give Al Amir time. And start writing letters to Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle: Wouldn’t it be a great closing gesture to his eight-year reign if he acknowledged the Arabs among us?
Al Amir Bakery, 2281 Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 535-0973.