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Dishes Worth the Drive: Kobe Meatballs, Crab Cakes and Chocolate Hummus

It’s time again to take a culinary tour through Irvine of dishes that are so good that they’re worth a drive in traffic from Los Angeles. This month, we have some delicious dishes to spotlight from a brand new Italian steakhouse and a new Mediterranean restaurant. There may be plenty of Italian and Mediterranean food in Los Angeles, but these specific dishes are so good that we’re recommending a trip down south for them.

The first restaurant we’re showcasing this month is Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse at Irvine Towers. Although the Irvine location has only been open since October 2018, it belongs to an already established family of restaurants with locations in Atlanta and along the East Coast. Their food is inspired from Northern Italian cuisine and includes handmade pasta, seafood and, of course, steak. “It has always been a dream of mine to open a restaurant in California … and what could possibly be better than being in Irvine? It’s very exciting for us to be here. We can’t wait to become part of this wonderful community,” says Steve DiFillipp, chef and owner of Davio’s.

Kobe Meatballs – Courtesy of Davio’s

The first dish offered at Davio’s that makes the drive from L.A. worthwhile is the Kobe Meatballs. These are made with American Kobe beef, veal and pork. It actually takes three days to make these, and you can really tell. They’re so tender that they melt in your mouth; whether you’re a meatball connoisseur or you just really love meat, you have try these meatballs. It’s mind-blowing to think that they almost never came to be. “In 1985 we didn’t have meatballs on our menu. No way, I said. Meatballs are an American invention; they’re not Italian,” says DiFillipp. “I didn’t want any of it in my upscale restaurant. … Fast-forward to present day, meatballs are acceptable in upscale restaurants. … Finally, I gave in and showed the guys how to make them like my mom did. Working together, we tweaked the recipe, substituting Kobe beef for normal ground beef. Today, we sell more meatballs than you can imagine.”

On weekends, you can also splurge on a $100 meatball, which is made of American Kobe Wagyu beef, black truffles and a molten center of truffle cheese and faux gras. It’s then topped with a champagne cream sauce and more shaved black truffles, and served with a glass of Barolo. Or if you’re on a budget, Davio’s still has you covered. During happy hour, which is 4 – 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 5 – 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, American Kobe Beef Meatball Sliders are available for $9 on the Bar Bites menu. No matter if you get the Kobe meatball from the traditional menu, as a $100 meatball or in a slider, it’s a unique dish that’s so scrumptious, it’s definitely worth the drive from L.A. to Irvine.

If meatballs aren’t your thing, or you prefer seafood, the second dish we chose to spotlight is the crab cake. It’s one of Davio’s signature dishes, consisting of lump crab cake that’s oven baked and topped off with a whole grain mustard sauce. The combination of the crab meat with the mustard sauce really makes this dish special and worth the drive from Los Angeles.

Moving from Italy to the Middle East, our second restaurant, SAJJ Mediterranean, just opened its Irvine location last November in the Sand Canyon Plaza shopping center (their first location is in Santa Margarita). So what makes this Mediterranean restaurant so special? First, everything is customizable. That’s why our first dish to spotlight is their Build Your Own Bowl (pitas or salads are also choices for your base). Diners can choose to fill it with chicken or steak shawarma, pomegranate chicken, shawafel (falafel and shawarma) or their signature falafel. After that, unlimited toppings and sauces, including hummus, cilantro mint chutney, tahini, tzatziki and peri peri are available for further customization.

Chocolate Hummus – Courtesy of Sajj

Recently, SAJJ launched “lifestyle” bowls to appeal to various types of diets. “In the last year or so, we’ve watched as the restaurant industry has begun to adapt and change to meet the specific dietary needs and preferences of consumers, and while our offerings are already highly customizable to fit those needs, we wanted to take that one step further and make it easier for guests to order a bowl that fits their lifestyle,” says Zaid Ayoub, Founder and CEO of SAJJ Mediterranean. “Our goal at SAJJ has always been to serve fresh, healthy food fast, and the introduction of our new Lifestyle Bowls will fulfill every part of that promise!” Lifestyle bowls include a Paleo, Keto and Double Protein bowl. Essentially a make-your-own Mediterranean bowl for anyone’s taste or diet, it’s truly worth the drive from Los Angeles.

The second dish we want to spotlight is so unique that it can’t be found in most Mediterranean restaurants, making it definitely worth the drive to Irvine: chocolate hummus. That’s right, you read it right. It’s a healthy dessert alternative that is low in fat, sodium and carbohydrates – it’s only 240 calories per 6-ounce container. The dish is made with just six ingredients: garbanzo beans, tahini, cocoa powder, chocolate hazelnut spread, maple syrup and vanilla extract. It can be ordered with house-made cinnamon sugar-dusted chips or on its own. There aren’t many places in L.A. that offer this unique of a dish, so it’s definitely worth the drive to Irvine! All entrees at SAJJ are also served with complimentary lentil soup. Fries, pita chips, hummus, falafel and baklava can be purchased as additional sides. Traditional Middle Eastern beverages, like mint and strawberry lemonade, tamarind and a mint yogurt drink, are house-made and available to order as well.

Whether you’re in the mood for a culinary trip to Italy or to the Middle East, these dishes are so delicious that we recommend our Angelino friends up north come down to Irvine and try them. Stay tuned next month for four new dishes worth the drive from Los Angeles to Irvine!

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse

18420 Von Karman Ave #100
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 477-4810

SAJJ Mediterranean

6636 Irvine Center Dr.
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 336-4404