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Middle East Eats

August 23, 1987| Compiled by Jane Greenstein

Midnight at the oasis. Or for that matter, midday. When you've got a craving for kebabs, consider the following.

BENNY'S BEVERLY HILLS (240 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (213) 278-0209). Although not strictly a Middle Eastern restaurant, this innovative little place with its emphasis on salads displays an exotic bent. Mixed among the familiar favorites is a chicken salad stocked with roasted potatoes and dusted with a subtle Middle Eastern spice called summokie and something called Calitarator--cauliflower and carrots bound together with tahini into a delicious, comforting mush. For $4.95, you can have a selection of three of the substantial and delicious salads. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine only. No credit cards. Dinner for two: $10-$20.

DARYA (1840 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 921-2773). This is the best Iranian restaurant in Orange County if you're talking shish kebab. It is also remarkably busy. Here's what there is: tender, even soft, pieces of boneless chicken; tiny lamb chops on a skewer; beef kebab; white fish. Above all, the rice that comes with the entrees is delicious, positively perfumy with rice aroma. Open for lunch and dinner daily. No credit cards, checks accepted. Wine and beer. Dinner for two: $20.

THE GRILL TABLE (103 East 9th St., Los Angeles, (213) 622-3343). The menu at this fast food place in downtown Los Angeles is mostly Israeli. But there are also some Iranian specialties, such as tangy, marinated grilled chicken. Fashion plates from the nearby garment district also indulge in the excellent falafel and the fantastic eggplant. Portions are big; prices small. Open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Cash only. Lunch for two: $4.50-$8.

MIDDLE EAST (645 E. Main St., Alhambra, (818) 576-1048). A Lebanese restaurant housed in a converted teriyaki shack, Middle East is one of Alhambra's best restaurants. The dining room is tiny, with a mere six tables and a five-stool counter facing the cooking area. Some outstanding specials include couscous with chicken; mansaf ; lamb with yogurt, and incredible stuffed squash and grape leaves. If the specials exhaust you, try the simpler regular menu, which includes fool mudammas , the Middle Eastern version of frijoles . Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. No credit cards. Dinner for two: $15-$20.

PERSEPOLIS (920 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-5312). Persepolis is named for an ancient Persian city, and the interior looks as if it belongs in one. The dining room is dark and Byzantine, with low ceilings, mirrored columns, pink walls and New Orleans bordello-style chandeliers. The food is magnificent. Start with the light, creamy (but substantial) barley soup. The Persepolis kebab is really two kebabs, barg and kouhlbideh , one of marinated ground beef, the other of lean cubed sirloin. It has a wine list, unusual for a Middle Eastern restaurant, and a singer offering authentic music Thur.-Sun. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Beer and wine. Some lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two: $20-$30.

SHAMSHIRI (1916 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (213) 474-1410). When you enter Shamshiri, which is always packed with Iranians eating enormous portions of food, you won't have the immediate sense that you are in a Middle Eastern restaurant. The room is painted a stark, neutral white, and there is only a hint of Byzantine on a back wall. The menu is small but satisfying. Begin with one of the generous appetizers like shallot yogurt. First-timers are advised to begin with the kebab, preferably lamb. The more curious diner may go for one of the stews or the daily specials, such as green bean rice. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No credit cards or checks. Dinner for two: $15-$25.

TANOURI (1442 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (213) 470-7003). Tanouri is a tiny, brick-wall room with earth-tone tables, patio chairs and a green tiled ceramic oven visible from the dining room. The food is good here, especially kashk bademjan , a dense version of the ubiquitous eggplant appetizer. You can also sample some real Persian exotica such as abaloo polo, a sour cherry rice mixed with meatballs. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. Dinner for two: $20-$30.

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