This is a strange place to find fesenjan, a Persian stew made with ground walnuts, pomegranate, chicken and a mélange of mysterious spices that adds complexity to the sweet, sour and nutty dish. But Ladan and Elnaz Azizi, sisters from Iran, are so passionate about serving the food of their home country that the location hardly matters. Indeed, stepping into the tent that serves as the dining room for Ladan's Restaurant, set up in the midst of a sea of used cars on an access road paralleling Santa Fe, feels like you're walking into the family's living room. Along with a few tables and comfortable couches for customers, the space holds coffee tables, ornate floor lamps and room dividers (some made from stained glass windows), a chess board and an assortment of Persian decorations. Friends of the sisters and other family members chat in Farsi at a central table while they tally receipts and review business documents.
The menu at Ladan's focuses on kebabs, served either on platters alongside rice and grilled vegetables, or in sandwiches built on French baguettes and sided with fries. You'll see familiar appetizers such as hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, dolmehs and even fries, but nearly everything has an extra element or layer of flavor. The dolmehs are similar to the stuffed grape leaves you'll find at Greek or Middle Eastern restaurants, but here they're dusted with an herb blend that includes dried rose petals. In the depths of a snowy February, these dolmehs are served with blueberries, an uncommon accompaniment but one likely substituting for pomegranate seeds, which are hard to come by in Denver after December. The chef's instincts are unfailing, though, as the berries add a tart, fruity counterpoint to the salty grape leaves.
Outside the tent, a Persian man shovels snow away from its entrance (a swinging door that adds a sense of permanence to the setup), but inside, propane heaters keep the air just warm enough for comfort. The chef looks out onto her dining room from the food-truck window, her hair tied back in a red bandanna. The collision of heat, chill and steam creates vortexes of aroma throughout the space, making the thought of exiting into the wan winter afternoon less than appealing. Fortunately, strong-brewed black tea and baklava are available, and perfect for a quick move from table to couch.
Ladan's might not be easy to get to, but once you arrive, the reality of excellent Persian cuisine will make it difficult to leave.
Ladan's is located at 4435 South Santa Fe Drive (use the South Natches Court access road) and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Monday. Call 720-695-6592 or visit ladansrestaurant.com for more details.