When the younger generation of the Zankou Chicken family dynasty decided to open a Mexican eatery, there were naysayers. I was not one of them. I was excited at the prospect of Armenian-Mexican fusion fare. Just look what Kogi BBQ did for Korean and Mexican cuisines. Expectations are a dangerous thing.
I fantasized about shawerma tacos with garlic tomatillo sauce or fattoush tostadas or maybe lule enchiladas. I figured the chef would create something brilliant. What the family came up with instead is a build-your-own burrito/bowl concept. It's nothing groundbreaking, but this restaurant still has a lot going for it.
Ara's has a large, consumer-friendly eating area similar to a food court. It is easy to stop by, have a healthy, filling lunch and get out. It's good for lone diners and large groups, for moms with strollers and teams of single-paying teens. The muffled sounds of industrial fans and clanging metal are actually relaxing, a perfect environment for checking email using free WiFi.
The concept at Ara's is great for diners with food restrictions. Customers direct servers to build the bowl, burrito, salad or taco according to their preferences. My husband, for instance, is on a low-carb diet so his bowl consisted of meat, beans, veggies, salsa and for a nominal charge, guacamole. My son, the pole vaulter, prefers the everything diet. He chose all of the above plus Mexican rice, cheese, sour cream and corn salsa all rolled up in a huge tortilla.
Chicken or beef are your meat choices. Vegetarians get peppers and onions. The meats are sliced off of vertical spits, just like the ones at the adjoining Zankou counter, but this meat is marinated in secret Mexican spices. The chicken is exceptionally moist (would you expect any different from the chicken masters?) but I must admit, otherwise unremarkable. The beef is nothing like carne asada or shredded beef. Ara's uses narrow slices of flank steak with a mild flavor.
My favorite things about the bowl I built (featuring brown rice, lettuce, pico de gallo and chicken) were the sweetness of the corn salsa and heat of the salsa roja. On other bites, though, I had an inescapable need to crank up the flavor. Lime didn't do it. Neither did pepper or salt. I did feel revved up after finishing, however, full of nutrition and ready to finish the day's chores.
If you're looking for a unique dining experience, go elsewhere. If you want an easy, filling, healthful meal for under $7, check out Ara's Tacos.
Where: 901 W. Glenoaks, Glendale
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Cost: Bowls, burritos, salads or three-taco plates, $6.25 for chicken or veggie; $6.75 for steak
More info: (818) 244-0492
LISA DUPUY has reviewed more than 100 area restaurants. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.