Where to Anoush’ella Saj Kitchen, serving flatbread-wrapped sandwiches, grain bowls, and more in the South End.
What for A Sofra-meets-Sweetgreen experience. Restaurateur Nina Festekjian draws on her Armenian and Lebanese heritage for this fast-casual spot, her first. “Anoush’ella” means “may it be sweet.”
The scene A big, open room decorated in white, gray, black, and wood tones, with splashes of color from orange chairs and stools, as well as canvases by Lexington artist Sirarpi Heghinian Walzer. Everybody’s first stop upon arrival: the line to place an order, adjacent to an area where workers assemble lentil-rice bowls with za’atar chicken and bake m’anoush, a thin flatbread, on domed saj griddles. After customers pay, a staffer hands them a GPS device. (Don’t you even try to get away without your food; they will track you down.) At a communal table, the post-yoga set and business-casual lunch-breakers mingle. Shelves line one wall, adorned with tchotchkes, books, jars of pickled turnips, and plants. Middle Eastern dance tracks play in the background. There’s a bar where a barista makes tahini mochas and guys in fuchsia shirts perch for espresso and conversation; in the back is another dining room with kilim-upholstered banquettes. A woman arrives with a baby in a stroller, adults come in with their adult-er parents, and there’s a contingent of Armenian grandfathers alongside a diverse crowd of South End hipsters. The neighborhood didn’t have anything quite like this, and apparently it was ready.
What you’re eating Fattoush salad and tabbouleh. The strained yogurt labneh, topped with savory (walnut harissa, feta, and pomegranate) or sweet (fruit and granola) ingredients. Grain bowls made with toasted couscous or lentil rice. M’anoush filled and rolled into sandwiches: The sabich contains hummus, eggplant, hardboiled eggs, and vegetables; there are also versions with labneh, lamb kofta (meatballs), and more. Dinner brings a selection of mezze, from pickled turnips to hummus with braised beef.
Care for a drink? There are several renditions of homemade lemonade: mint-honey-lime, ginger-thyme, date. Tahini mochas come iced or hot, along with a basic array of espresso drinks. There is alcohol, too: a very limited selection of wine and beer, plus cocktails like the Arak 75 and a peach-thyme martini.
Overheard Whole-grain disagreement, parental wrangling, GPS confusion. “Have you been here yet? It’s so good,” says a woman to her sisters-in-Lululemon. “Couscous isn’t a grain, it’s a pasta,” one of them weighs in. “It used to make me crazy when they left food on the plate,” one well-dressed gentleman says to another at the coffee bar. A server arrives at a woman’s side, her m’anoush in hand. “You found me,” she says. “But the thing didn’t buzz!” “It’s GPS,” he informs her patiently. A handsome couple reclines in a nook: “My wife is a vegan. I am not,” the man declares to a staffer. “They really need a cookie,” says a woman mournfully as she departs.
35 West Newton St., South End, Boston, 857-265-3195, www.anoushella.comDevra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.