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This Roving Armenian Taco Stand Aims to Spread Cultural Awareness Across L.A.

1:36 PM PDT on March 15, 2022

Diana Gasparyan, of Miss Wraps

A nocturnal food stand named Miss Wraps is spreading Armenian cuisine and culture throughout the city, one taco at a time.

Founder Diana Gasparyan and her cousin, Grigor Madaryan, spotlight the Levantine staple of lahmajune—a minced beef or lamb-topped flatbread some refer to, despite being cheese-free, as “Armenian pizza,” but is translated simply as “bread and meat.” And they’re doing it in the form of Armenian wraps and tacos.

The duo sets up their extensive stand on weekends, fulfilling a shared mission of introducing Angelenos to something different from the Armenian kitchen besides the ubiquitous kebabs, mantee, and basturma we’ve learned to love.

“We wanted to do something different’” Gasparyan recalls. “Not just another food stand. Everybody loves going out and eating in L.A., so why not serve them tacos, only Armenian-style, to reel them in.”

Gasparyan, 30, has been cooking for most of her life. After moving to Glendale from Armenia at 7, she stuck close to her grandma’s side in the kitchen, absorbing her recipes and techniques along the way. She got her first restaurant job at 16, attended The Art Institutes Culinary School at 18, and continued in the industry, doing everything from washing dishes, baking, working at a Universal CityWalk restaurant, scooping at Cold Stone, and holding down pizza chef and kitchen manager positions at Tony Yanow’s California Sun.

“I love anything to do with food,” she tells L.A. TACO, relating her foray into the study of nutrition to learn the science behind food.

When war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested Artsakh region in 2020, Gasparyan saw her community rally. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, neighbors and businesses were each finding their own way of raising donations for the soldiers and their embattled compatriots back home.

“Not a lot of media was covering the war, and they weren’t getting a lot of help,” she says. “So the Armenians of L.A. and all over America were organizing fundraisers to help them out.”

Tapping her culinary background, she initially began selling small boxes of sweets. Buoyed by the small amount of funding she was able to secure, Gasparyan sought to do something even bigger to raise money and awareness of her culture.

She and Grigor had often discussed collaborating together in the culinary sphere. Inspired by the success of other young Armenian-Angeleno entrepreneurs, they quickly threw out the suggestion of replicating a hot chicken business of their own, before deciding on an a deeper dive into their roots.

“I told him, ‘I have this idea for doing lahmajune as street food like a taco stand, because nobody has ever heard of it,’” she says. “Of presenting Armenian food to different cultures in a way that’s comfortable for them. So they crave it, too. He was down.”

Testing began immediately.

Around this time, Grigor’s father, Khatchatour Madarian, who is Diana’s uncle, decided to retire. Hoping to conquer his newfound boredom at home, he gladly offered to help them out, inspired by their ambitions of helping Armenia. A fan of the Roy Choi-inspired, Jon Favreau movie Chef, Diana made sure to screen it for him. They were all electrified with the film’s showcase of a hustling chef constantly on the move.

“Our whole motivation was to do what [Favreau’s character] did,” she says. “Not stay in one area but go here, go there. We wanted to spread cultural food awareness.”

Sadly, Khatchatour passed away that December, briefly crushing their plans. Fortunately, the lull only lasted a few months.

“I said, ‘let’s try again,’” Diana says. “Let’s do it for your dad. I know he would have been very proud of you. Let’s do it for the soldiers that passed. For us. And we just did it. Our first pop-up was last August and it went well, even if people were a little surprised by what we were serving.”

Today, the two cousins can be found popping up Thursdays through Saturdays at different locations throughout L.A. County, serving to both familiar crowds in North Hollywood and Santa Clarita, to the sidewalks of West Los Angeles, where Armenian eateries are just about non-existent.

“Customers have been very open-minded,” she says. “We tell them about the recipes and culture, about where lahmajune comes from, how it’s my grandma’s recipe, and they appreciate it. A lot of people don’t know where Armenia is and we explain it, which makes us very happy.”

At Miss Wraps (a clever play on words as “miss” sounds like the Armenian word for “meat”) you’ll find Gasparyan and Madaryan skillfully spackling each flat circle of thin flatbread with a paste of spiced raw beef, chicken, or Impossible Meat minced with onion, parsley, garlic, and tomato. The cousins use thin flour tortillas sourced from Restaurant Depot to get an airy, lighter texture for the pita-like base they seek. One that maintains structure under the weight of multiple ingredients but remaining supple to the bite.

As opposed to the trickier charcoal grills typically preferred at Armenian cookouts, they pop each lahmajune into twin Ooni ovens, their enflamed domes cooking the proteins on top quickly at up to 670 degrees, while the furnace's stone floor crisps the bread’s borders

One can order a traditional, plain lahmajune, have it folded into a wrap, or according to the menu’s own wise words, choose to “taco it.” The tacos were started as the chefs wanted to offer a smaller version of their wraps. San Fernando Valley kids, they were no strangers to loving taco stands themselves.

Beyond the conventional “Armenian pizza” version, there are seven mutations on their menu, including “El Diablo,” topped in melted cheese, Hot Cheetos, jalapenos, and a Sriracha-based aioli; the “Meat Lover” with bacon; veggie and fajita versions with lemon tahini; and a “Surf n’ Turf” with cilantro sauce, bell peppers, and buttery shrimp that go ‘pop’ in your gob. Tacos are $4 ($6 for the “Surf n’ Turf”) or three for $10.

To end things (or begin them, if you’re freaky ), there are also hot dessert tacos served on the same light flour tortillas, bearing Nutella and strawberries, or cookie butter, respectively. It was important to Gasparyan, who doesn’t eat the red meat that is traditionally found on lahmajune, to provide healthy and vegan versions of her dishes.

We first found Miss Wraps set-up before a massive white belonging to Smart & Final in West L.A.’s Sawtelle neighborhood, spray-painted top-to-bottom with “SOTEL13” in black. The stand was blasting pop music from a large speaker while tempting young drunks spilling out of Mom’s Bar on Santa Monica Boulevard with its sandwich board menu, alluring scents, and bright lights.

The surf n turf taco, left, and El Diablo on the right
The surf n turf taco, left, and El Diablo on the right

Lahmajune turns out to lend itself quite well to the taco formation. Especially in the Meat Lovers and Surf n’ Turf tacos we enjoyed the most and returned for the next week. The tortillas’ crisp exo-skeletons shatter into a soft center of baked dough and juicy, grilled ingredients, accented by the acidity of each of their vegan-friendly sauces and smatterings of fresh vegetables and dried herbs, which lend a fattoush-like crunch.

Unlike many dense tortillas we’ve known out there, the lightness in Miss Wraps’ flatbreads provides a delicate, minimal barrier between you and your taco’s central contents, crumbling into an alloy of hot spiced Armenian meat and nostalgic SoCal flavors. The surf n’ turf was equally magnificent in the form of a wrap, its flour tortilla soaking up the plentiful juices better than the glut of rice found in many a middling burrito.

“I feel like it clicks with L.A., “Gasparyan says. “We are multi-cultural and diverse, and we have a lot of foodies. Who get to see other varieties of our food. It just works.”

Gasparyan’s greatest joy in operating Miss Wraps is the ability to meet and talk with customers while bringing Armenian cuisine to disparate regions of L.A. It’s one of the reasons she dreams, not of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant like so many sidewalk chefs do, but of having her own food truck. Just like the main character in Chef.

“I like the whole idea of moving around,” she says. “You can meet new people and spread your culture a little bit more, instead of having this one shop where you’re just there. So we can even share our culture outside of L.A., to NorCal, San Diego, and beyond in memory of my uncle and the war. It means a lot that people can see this side of the Armenians.”

You can find Miss Wraps this Thursday night in North Hollywood at Sherman Way and Coldwater. Check their Instagram for updates.

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