Crown Valley Market in Mission Viejo is certainly one of the better places to shop for food in the Southern Orange County area. Tending towards a Persian clientele, they have a deli with six types of feta cheese, several types of pre-made tabbouleh and other prepared foods. Not only do they have a basic selection of canned goods and frozen items, but their produce ranks among the best in the area, both in price and selection. Persian cucumbers, fresh dates, apricots, shallots, fennel and more are available. six types of onions, fresh berries and several types of eggplant are always available. There are fresh bunches of herbs such as dill, cilantro and mint as well as a wide selection of peppers. Middle Eastern spices such as cardamom and zaatar can be found for purchase and the amount of different types of yogurt is just staggering.
Of course, the bakery is second to none, with different styles of baklava, plenty of cookies and other sweets. Ten different types of pita bread greet you as you start walking through, heading towards a counter window in front of a large oven. There, the baker is constantly pulling out fresh baked sangak bread. Smile at them and they'll give you a sample of this flatbread, fresh-baked and still warm, with a tangy flavor. Each 'loaf' of bread is close to a foot wide and over 3 feet long. Add to this a butcher counter with fresh meat, seafood and poultry and you've got a great place to not only shop but explore.
Upstairs, there is Bahar Persian Restaurant, worthy of consideration as one of the best Persian restaurants in town. The best time to go shopping here, though, combines the best of both places. On Saturdays and Sundays, the wood grill is moved out to the front patio. There, a limited amount of items are cooked to order. This is one of the best ways to taste some basic Persian foods while you are doing shopping.
The menu is simple, consisting of a choice of koobideh skewers with a grilled tomato wrapped in a nice-sized piece of the fresh sangak bread, some fresh mint and a choice of soft drinks. The basic meal is $5.99 and you can add a second skewer of meat for $3.99. So what is koobideh, you ask? Koobideh is a type of kabob, either made from ground beef or ground chicken, mixed well with chopped onion, herbs and spices and then molded onto a long, flat skewer. The meat is cooked directly over the coals, with the grill man turning them constantly. Over the side, fresh tomatoes also grill on one of the long, flat skewers. With the skewers, being flat instead of round makes it easy to turn the items over.
When your order is placed, the grill man places your meat(s) of choice over the hot coals. He usually works on a few orders at a time. Every minute or so, the koobideh kabobs are flipped over to get a nice even grilling on them. The other cook there places a piece of the sangak bread in the foam to-go container and then adds a grilled tomato and the meat. It is rolled up in the bread, the mint is added and you are ready to go.
Eating the kabob is simple. Tear off a pice of sangak bread, tear off a bit of the meat, cut a chunk of tomato off with a plastic fork and place a mint leaf on top, roll it up and place in your mouth. The somewhat tart bread goes wonderfully with the sweet grilled tomato, the meat has a great char and the mint adds a note of brightness to the mouthful. In many Middle Eastern countries, you might find a stand like this on every corner, but here it's certainly a special treat.
The tables on the patio make a nice place to sit and watch the grill man ply his craft. Finishing the meal off with a nice slice of baklava with its pistachio filling and honey coating and you have a nice, simple but tasty lunch. The outdoor grill operates from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the weekend. By combining it with a trip to the market inside, you'll get a nice chance to buy some familiar and some unfamiliar items. You can buy the fresh sangak bread, but be warned, it's just wrapped in a piece of paper and it is easy to snack on it on your drive home. Most of all, you'll get a delicious lunch that is cooked right in front of you. Enjoy!
Crown Valley Market
27771 Center Drive
Mission Viejo, CA 92692