Zankou is famous for its chicken, of course, but the Los Angeles-based Mediterranean bistro is known for more than the chicken it takes its namesake from. When the first restaurant opened in Beirut in 1962, Zankou had a few family secret recipes it shared with the community. Those traditions continue to this day, where Zankou Chicken has fed everyone from families to starving artists. Here is a brief history of the signature dishes that put Zankou on the map.
Chicken Tarna may look like something you can order at another restaurant, but it’s a recipe exclusive to Zankou. It’s trademarked by the restaurant chain, and the process for cooking it involves fresh, hormone-free chickens. It draws on shawarma for inspiration, but the dish is unique. The spices used are Mediterranean in origin, not local as with the rotisserie chicken, which provides a deep and rich flavor that’s hard to replicate with spices from an American supermarket.
Tarna itself was invented in 1992 in Glendale, California. It literally means “turn” in Armenian, to describe the process of cooking the dish.
Shawarma itself dates back to the 1830s, where Egyptians discovered how to use a vertical roasting technique to cook beef and lamb. The result was incredible, and Zankou Chicken took it one step further with one of the finest quality cuts of beef one can get. Popularized in California, the Tri-tip is marbled and juicy, which makes it perfect for caramelization.
The garlic sauce at Zankou really sells every dish, and it’s a secret sauce shrouded in mystery and often replicated (usually falsely). Food bloggers claim it contains anything from lard to mayonnaise, but the reality is simple. The garlic sauce uses fresh California cloves, vegetable oil and salt for its base. The secrets of how may never be revealed.