So Long Silverware: Dipping Dinners

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Sometimes it’s tough to broaden your kid’s palate. Sure, you’ve heard that other people’s little ones dive into sushi like it’s ice cream, but maybe you’ve got more of a mainstream kinda kid. You know, the kind that refuses to try the “yucky green stuff” (aka: vegetables, darling). But one thing both cultured cuties and more traditional tots can agree on is that dipping is fun. Yep. Who can deny that dunking is awesome? So think outside the nugget-shaped box and introduce your mini taste-tester to some super fun food that you eat with your hands, using different kinds of bread as the utensils.

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Lebanese Yummies
In Lebanon they use pita bread, warm from the oven, to scoop up meats, dips and salads.  These are the kid-friendliest places we know of to try this kind of food.

Sunnin Restaurant & Bakery
This authentic Lebanese eatery uses the freshest ingredients that will please even the pickiest of eaters. Start with the “Mezza Combo” and watch little fingers dig in. The Hummus and Babaganouj are awesome for dipping, and the stuffed grape leaves and falafel are a perfect fit for pint-sized palms. If you really want to make like a local, order “arous labne”, which is a popular dish for kids growing up in Beirut. Labne is a Middle-Eastern type of cream cheese, and in this case it’s served with fresh pita bread and olives. The combo might sound a little left of center compared to your usual “bagel & shmear”, but it’s delicious and your kids will love the hand-held element. Or order a few sanbousek (home-made dough stuffed with cheese or meat) and tell your kids they’re fancy Hot Pockets. Once they get a taste, they’ll renounce frozen fare. But if dining in a restaurant isn’t in the cards for your wigglers, fear not.  You can still enjoy the food by picking up maneesh (herbed flatbread sandwiches) and cookies to go from the Bakery across the street and head for a picnic at Westwood Park just a few blocks away.

Sunnin Restaurant & Bakery
1776 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, Ca 90024
Phone: 310-475-3358
Online: sunnin.com

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Zankou Chicken
This casual eatery may just be the lucky charm to entice kids into new ways of eating. Let tiny grabbers go to town dipping freshly baked pita bread into some Mutabbal (an eggplant and garlic dip). Stay in hand-held heaven with a Chicken Tarna wrap, or continue the dunk fest and order the Falafel Special (two home-made falafel balls and a side of tahini sauce). There are locations all over town, and they’re all kid-friendly. Get out of washing the dishes and pick up dinner to go for you and the kids.

Zankou Chicken
Multiple locations all over LA, check the website for details.
Online: zankouchicken.com

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Ethiopian Eats
In Ethiopia they use the addictive spongy injera bread as an edible utensil.  The best Ethiopian we’ve found in LA are all located along a few blocks on Fairfax that’s referred to as Little Ethiopia.  The following are our favorite places to bring kids (and then get a sweet treat at Hansen’s Bakery!).

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This family owned eatery has been serving LA since 1988. The wait staff are super friendly, and will welcome your own family with smiles. The dishes are typically served in large platters, for the whole table to share – talk about bonding. Your kids will go wild for injera, which is the thin, spongy Ethiopian bread that’s served beneath all the stewed dishes. It’s large and round like a huge pancake, and the stews (called “Wot”) are presented on top, like a painter’s palette. Your little ones will love getting to rip off a piece and scoop up everything straight into their mouths. Some Ethiopian food can be spicy, so ask the server for recommendations. You’ll be amazed how quickly your kids will chow down on stewed okra and lentils when they can eat with their hands. No forks, no fuss. Ethiopian culture isn’t big on desserts, but according to some stories, they did invent coffee (bless them!), so order a traditional brew to round out the meal.

Nyala
1076 S. Fairfax Ave,
Los Angeles, Ca 90019
Phone: 323-936-5918
Online: nyala-la.com

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Merkato
Kids will love the unique dining experience here. Traditional saddle back chairs are the perfect way for them to pretend they’re horseback-riding at dinner, and the tables are like upside-down baskets. Try the veggie platter and you might be surprised by tiny mouths gobbling up collard greens. It’s all stewed  and arrives in little round pools – even kids famous for eschewing vegetables will love diving their injera into the colorful assortment of goodness. Moms and Dads can enjoy Ethiopian beer and honey wine while the kids chow down. After you eat, why not pop into the adjoining market and check out some of the cool stuff, from hookahs and spices to Ethiopian trinkets…perhaps an after-dinner treat to congratulate the kids on tasting something new?

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Merkato
1036 S Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90019
Phone: 323-935-1775
Online: ethiopianmerkato.com

These are our favorite scoop-able finger-licking foods places for the short set. What are yours? Let us know.

–Elena Wurlitzer

Photo credits by: Sunnin Facebook page, Zankou Facebook page, Nyala Facebook page, Yelp via Veronica Q., jbracken via Creative Commons, and yummy porky via Creative Commons