Monday, January 16, 2012
Like any new business Z Garden is indeed working out some of the unexpected yet unavoidable kinks. Co-owner Shadi Abed, posts himself close to the entrance working partly as a greeter and also as the guy who has to shut the faulty door that wants to constantly stay open. The dining area still awaits the Santa Monica’s Farmers Market hook-up who promised foliage to accompany their brand new wood furnishings. And the landscaper still has to do an overhaul of the exterior to truly make a garden out of Z-Garden. Meanwhile in the kitchen, the other owner Nasar Nasir mans the grill and seems to have a handle on the light mid afternoon crowd.
Z Garden opened up about two and a half weeks ago in the space that used to be Tom’s #1 Family Restaurant for the past 21 years just east of Cloverfield and Pico. Apparently people still walk up to the counter attempting to order a burger not even realizing that a change was made. I was compelled to stop in after riding my bike down Pico, doing a double take, and realizing that the old greasy spoon had bitten the dust.
A story of friendship, serendipity, and love for food led these two long time friends out of their homeland of Tunisia, and into Z Garden. Nasar spent many years cooking for a Saudi prince and traveling the world. Shadi, moved to Los Angeles and worked in hookah sales. Most notably, he was the man to embellish the well known Gypsy Cafe in Westwood with their smoking supplies. Both men reunited in Santa Monica and started Green Taxi in 2008 which they recently sold to buy Z Garden. Nasar married Shadi’s sister, and now these two friends and business owners are now brothers. What a whirlwind!
Mediterranean at heart, Z Garden could best be compared to Zankou Chicken, but more personable and stylish (especially once the plant guy delivers the goods). The menu offers all of the staples and standards including shawarma, kabobs, falafel, vegetarian plates, and salads. Sandwiches range around $7 and entrees are about $10. Both options include sides making the prices very reasonable. They pride themselves in making everything in house, and fresh to order. The falafel I tried had a seriously crispy shell but the inside was soft, aromatic, and ultimately very good. I noticed more than a few people ordering the chicken shawarma. Shadi informed me that the chicken shawarma is their most popular item as I will be inclined to check it out my next time around the block.
Any new restaurant, while tempered with uncertainty, reaps great rewards when it is a success. Hopefully Z Garden will become a mainstay in the Pico area that has seen much improvement over the years. They already have a steady flow of locals, curious newcomers, and people not realizing Tom’s #1 has gone out of business. It is certainly worth a look if you are in the mood for some good Mediterranean food.