Never Heard Of It is a collection of reviews of the countless and often extraordinary hole-in-the-wall restaurants of the Lower Mainland that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Explore the NHOI archive here.
Let me first set some expectations. Calling Lamajoun a “restaurant” might be a stretch. This place is actually a commercial-scale Armenian bakery set within a light industrial park on the north edge of Richmond, just a quick drive from IKEA. There are only three tables of two inside and three tables (possibly recycled from a fast-food joint) split between two parking spots out front. It is not your typical “date” or “destination” spot, but those who like to try new things will be rewarded. Indeed, despite the overarching oddness of its setting, Lamajoun makes some of the most honest and delicious food that can be had in the Metro.
The little operation serves the Lower Mainland’s small Armenian and Georgian populations with their pre-made baked goods, desserts, cured meats and dumplings, which can be pre-ordered online for pickup. Sergei (or “Serge”) Maranjyan and his wife Anna started the business as a side-hustle after working their day jobs a few years ago (he was in IT and her background is in architecture). “For special events, our church used to buy baked goods from an Armenian bakery in Montreal and had it Fedexed to Vancouver. It was crazy!” Anna says. “So we thought we could make it all ourselves”. Montreal has the largest and most vibrant Armenian community in Canada.
Starting in their home kitchen, then later graduating to commercial bakeries that they rented in the off-hours, they made Armenian and Georgian baked goods to sell by word-of-mouth to their community. Within a few years, they moved into their current space and with the help of family and friends, the business became their full-time jobs. If you peer through the opening to the back area – you can watch as a small crew pitches in to help with the food prep; stretching dough for lavash, forming ground meat kebabs, making their signature lamajoun, which is a sort of Armenian pizza.
Lavash, 0ne of their bread-and-butter products ($2), is a flatbread thinner than naan and traditionally made in a clay tonir (tandoor). Here they make it in what looks like a giant panini maker. They sell most of their lavash in bulk to their regular customers. They also use the lavash as a wrap for their kebabs ($7), pork, chicken, and lamb chops ($8-$12). They are all served simply with sliced tomatoes, onions, pickled pepper, and a sprinkling of parsley.
If this is your first time trying Armenian food, you might want to dig into their eponymous dish. the lamajoun (Arabic for “meat and dough”). The beef version has a generous layer of well-spiced minced meat while the cheese version is untraditionally topped with cheddar and cottage cheese. Or you might want to try the kachapuri (or “pide”), which is a sort of partially open-faced calzone from Georgia. Order it with the optional egg for bonus points. The jingle bread or golzeme is a light vegan-friendly savoury pastry of fresh herbs wrapped in a thin dough which is then grilled.
The khinkali (5 for $10) are Georgian soup dumplings that look a lot like giant Xiao Long Bao with a top-knot. As with XLB, be careful when you bite them to avoid an embarrassing and potentially painful hot broth incident. Sergei also cures his own meats like sujuk, which is a spicy beef sausage. He also does a garlicky, paprika-rubbed basturma (the likely root word for our present-day “pastrami”). Both are highly spiced and traditionally hung to air-dry for at least a few weeks. In an effort to get you hooked, Sergei is very generous with giving free samples.
Finally, they have some very good desserts, all of which are scarcely sweet. I am of the opinion that most of the pastries from that part of the world are often cloying enough to induce hyperglycemia. But not here. The sugar levels are just right. Order the gata, which is like a flakey sugar pastry ball slightly larger than a timbit but tasting infinitely more delicious ($3). Their take on a Napoleon ($4) was a surprise; seeing a decadent ratio of pastry layers to custard filling. Unlike the canonical versions, the pastry is very soft and pliant. The baklava is one of the best I have ever had on the West Coast, and like their other desserts it’s just sweet enough. Oh, and while not traditionally Armenian, I have to give a nod to their seasonal fruit New York-style cheesecakes.
If you are up for an adventure, be sure to check this place out, especially if you plan to ever shop at the nearby Richmond IKEA. If Lamajoun’s food doesn’t hook you, then their sincerity and generosity most certainly will!