PROPERLY served, hummus is a grand thing to see. A cook scoops pale yellow paste into a shallow brick-colored bowl and then stirs it madly with a mortar, forcing it up against the sides of the bowl in a thick, luxurious coil.
Ostensibly, this is for your convenience, because you can scoop genteelly from the wall of hummus erected for you. But it also shows off the quality. If the paste is too thick, it won't form that glamorous coil. Too slack, and it slumps shamefully.
Here are 10 of the best places to get hummus in the San Fernando Valley:
Alcazar, 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. The best-textured hummus in the area, piled up in a gleaming ridge around the edge of the plate. Garnished Beirut-fashion with chickpeas and virgin olive oil, it lacks garlic, but you could order a plainer-looking "chef's hummus" mixed with garlic and toasted pine nuts, or versions flavored with herbs or red pepper or topped with grilled meat. $5.50 (other versions $6 to $8).
Carnival Restaurant, 4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-3469. Smooth texture, bright lemon note and rather little tahini make for a light and attractive hummus, if not a very classical one. $3.75 to $5.50.
Carousel, 304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 246-7775. The texture of this hummus is a little grainy and liquid, but the flavor shows good understated lemon and garlic flavors. Lots of optional toppings are available, such as pine nuts, lamb sausages and shawarma. $5.50 (with toppings, $7.50 to $8.50).
Cedar House Café, 4805 Whitsett Ave., Valley Village/North Hollywood, (818) 769-9994. A well-balanced hummus with a touch of garlic. The texture is nice and smooth, if a little slack. Available topped with chicken shawarma or grilled meat and pine nuts. $5 (with toppings, $8 to $9).
Chicken Al-Wazir, 1219 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale (818) 500-1578. A unique hummus with an elusive smokiness and a non-classical texture — slightly chunky, as if there were some kind of minced vegetable in it. Very flavorful, though. $4.
Kilikia Grill, 627 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale, (818) 545- 7070. Nice balance of chickpea, lemon and sesame flavor. Probably the only hummus in Glendale that doesn't have the usual Armenian garnish of paprika — instead, it's sprinkled with cumin. $5.
Noah's Ark, 13641 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 786-1202. Smooth, slightly tart, good sesame flavor; garnished with virgin olive oil and (unusually) green olives. $5.
Papa Joe's, 514 W. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, (818) 500-1785. This awkwardly located place (you practically have to be exiting the north 5 Freeway to reach it) shows a rather Lebanese flavor, balancing lemon with a good amount of tahini. $2.50.
Raffi's Place, 211 E. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 240-7411. A smooth, mild hummus with good balance of lemon, garlic and sesame, very light sprinkle of paprika. $4.
Sassi Restaurant, 15622 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 986-5345. Nice lemon note, texture might be smoother; altogether quite good. Generously garnished with toasted pine nuts, olive oil and paprika. Certified kosher. $6.