A Lot of Flavor in a Little Space
An original blend of Mediterranean flavors and corner café charm combine to make Zeytoon a local secret worth shouting about. – By Jason Sanford | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Zeytoon is easy to miss, though not hard to distinguish. It’s a café that sits at the corner of Jasmine and Coast Highway, quietly making Laguna’s best sandwiches for those lucky enough to discover it. What sets Zeytoon apart from the rest of the pack is the confluence of flavors that give diners the chance to sample a little bit of Armenia and a little bit of Syria in a cozy, Mediterranean environment.
“We keep it simple, and customers come here for that one thing that they like,” owner Sousanna Alexander says. “Until, of course, we give samples of the new menu items.”
The outside of Zeytoon itself is barely noticeable—easily mistaken for a dry cleaner or corner real estate office—but that’s just fine with the owner. After all, it’s really about what’s inside, right? One thing that Sousanna aims for is to make Zeytoon more than just a sandwich place, but to transform it into the type of friendly corner joint where locals can eat, chill and hang together over astoundingly good Danesi espresso from Italy and freshly made hummus in a cozy little café across from the beach.
“More than 95 percent of our customers are locals because we have that connection with our customers—and all our orders are made to order; they’re not sitting around all day.”
One of the things that locals like and come back for frequently is the turkey panini, a signature treat that’s a far cry from the boring, sleep-inducing turkey dishes that are usually found in most eateries. This turkey has great flavor and is wedged into a nice, fresh chunk of mahdnakash, which is a soft and chewy sourdough-like bread easily found in Armenia, but much less common in Southern California. And it’s a shame it’s so hard to come by, as it’s delicious and crisp when filled with turkey, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncinis and then pressed until it’s golden brown and crispy on the outside, while still warm and chewy on the inside.
Another fast favorite is the Sujok, a delicious beef sausage sandwich on signature mahdnakash loaf that is savory and crispy, with a lot of nice spice to it. The Sujok was one of the driving forces behind the founding of Zeytoon, as it was a sandwich that Sousanna had long loved and simply couldn’t find in Orange County, so she took the high road and made it herself. Also, the new rosemary lemon chicken sandwich is full of flavor, and each bite is moist and memorable, especially when dipped in the homemade chili paste. The chili paste that’s good enough to be slathered on like SPF 15.
This may be Sousanna’s first go in the restaurant biz, but two to three bites in, you wouldn’t know it.
“If you have customer loyalty and good food, you’ve got a strong foundation for success.”
Not a bad foundation to build from, really. LBM
412 N. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-9230; zeytooncafe.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily Price: $1.25 to $10.99