Seeing this for the first time, you might turn and leave. But there is food, really good food, out of sight in a covered steam table at the counter where you order and in the kitchen.
Zam Zam is a Pakistani restaurant just west of King Fahad Mosque in Culver City. The barren setting doesn't prepare you for dishes that are elaborately seasoned, with layers of intriguing, spicy flavors.
If you go there on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you can get the combo plate (above), which is gargantuan, enough for two very hungry people. The plate in the photo includes chicken biryani, lamb curry in a deeply flavored brown sauce, a ground beef kebab, a couple of pieces of tandoori chicken and spinach that is as spicy as everything else. Other choices that day were chicken curry and dal.
If you know the restaurant, you'll walk along the passageway toward the back to pick up a carton of rice pudding from the refrigerated shelves. It's one of the loveliest rice puddings around, thick, creamy and fragrant with exotic seasonings--saffron, maybe cardamom too. And it might be the only non-spicy dish you'll eat.
You'll drink water with your meal or a soft drink. Or try the chai, which is in a dispenser on the counter (above). Don't ask for a beer, because this is an Islamic restaurant and does not provide alcohol.
Service at the counter is friendly and helpful. Then you're on your own to find a container of water, cups, plastic cutlery and other necessities.
Zam Zam has halal meat and food to go. Certain lamb dishes are available only on weekends, but chicken biryani is there every day and well worth the trip for a take-out order.
Zam Zam, 11028 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tel: (310) 841-2504.