Forgive me for being stereotypical, but why is it that Middle Eastern restaurants pick some of the worst names in the industry? I've encountered far too many of these gems hiding under bland monikers, with names pulled out of a franchising convention circa 1987. The worst local example, of course, was Factory Food Grill in Lake Forest, which served awesome Afghani cuisine until it changed ownership and now goes under the much-better Chopaan Kabob. A Turkish place in Rancho Santa Margarita goes with a Spanish fantasy-heritage ripoff; the awesome Hot Pita in Fullerton comes off as a new e-cig flavor. And worse than any of them is Grill Cafe, which doesn't tell you anything whatsoever about its Persian offerings and sounds like a hamburger restaurant two payments behind on its lease.
Thankfully, Grill Cafe has enough of a following that its bad name isn't hindering business much. Lunchtime brings a steady stream of businessmen, coffin dodgers from Leisure World, and Middle Easterners who just finished shopping at the nearby Jordan Market and now want a bite.The restaurant is tiny, with just one woman working the register; you'll have to pick up your order from her, then grab your own utensils, napkins and water next to the fridge stacked with bottles of doogh. Don't mind this fast-casual environment: Grill Cafe serves righteous Persian grub, from moist coils of koobideh to lavish stews to hefty sandwiches to tahdig so crispy the shards of crispy rice that fly out of your mouth with every bite will leave welts on your beloved's face. Daily specials bring sumptuous polos; the soda fridge also has stacks of mast-o-musir and other dips and salads to take home or dump over your food right there. Stand in front of the counter for a couple of seconds, and you'll feel the heat emanating from the three shawerma spits in front of you. And the portions—you should really save some for home, but the damn plates are so good you'll stuff yourself and end with a piece of baklava just for the hell of it.
But back to that name: Change it! Far too often, I've had people complain that Grill Cafe sucks when they had mistakenly gone to Grill Hut in Laguna Niguel, a so-so spot that is everything Grill Cafe isn't. Please, Grill Cafe, think of switching to something else—maybe Persian Food Yummy Grill? Okay, maybe I should stick to writing reviews. . . .