Indian cuisine is famously complex, but diners at Koyla Indian Restaurant get at least a peek at how it's prepared. The restaurant's signature cooking method is right in the name—koyla means "coal"—and chefs use its heat in full view within an open kitchen. Cinnamon and cloves, garlic and saffron fill the air as marinated chicken, shrimp, and goat simmer and sizzle. Although grounded in the cuisine of Northern India, founder Deep Singh and his chefs demonstrate a strong taste for experimentation. That's evident in the large menu's Indo-Chinese section, which holds hybrids such as chili paneer—the traditional Indian cheese spiked with house-made chili sauce. Pesto chicken and calamari masala reflect Singh's time as the proprietor of a small Italian cafe.
A mural of an especially cuddly-looking Taj Mahal brightens one wall of Koyla's softly-lit dining room. The motif continues as painted chili peppers wind around the room behind an ample buffet, served alongside champagne on the weekends.
Two things can be found around Aroma Grill's lacquered tables: plates of flavorful Indian and Indo-Chinese cuisine, and delighted diners ready to enjoy a meal together. From specialty dishes baked inside the tandoor oven to simple, savory street food, the kitchen crafts a menu of rich dishes that showcase the famous aromas and flavors of Indian cooking. The restaurant also breaks out chafing dishes to present lunch buffets and banquet spreads or to serve as shields during food fights.
Peacock Garden’s executive chef Gurpreet Singh—who carries a James Beard Foundation win under his belt—calls upon his culinary expertise to curate a menu of spice-laden sauces, colorful curries, and tender tandoori. Creamy kormas and masalas flecked with spices can all be accompanied by a variety of proteins, such as goat, lamb, seafood, and chicken. Vegetable dishes mingle cheeses and cream with bunches of cauliflower, slices of roasted eggplant, lentils, or beans. The richness found in Peacock’s dishes can also be found in its ambiance—gilded, velvety chairs, gold trim, and plush drapery let guests dine regally sans ill-fitting crown and surcoat.
Just because Indian food is filled with spices doesn't mean it has to set your tongue on fire. That's the philosophy at Haandi Indian Cuisine, where chefs, owners, and brothers Hartaj and Sartaj Singh use a bevy of North Indian spices when flavoring their authentic dishes. A careful dash of chili has the power to elevate a mild dish to the medium threshold or even to "Indian spicy," but only when the customer asks for it. Tandoori clay ovens churn out discs of piping hot naan bread and platters of marinated meats and seafood, while vegan dishes come together without the use of meat, dairy, or catnip.
Pooja Cuisine of India’s owners, Asha and Satish, opened their eatery to pay homage to the distinctive dishes originated by the restaurants and chefs of their Indian homeland. They specialize in vegetarian and vegan Indian fare, such as delicate rice dosas stuffed with curried vegetables or fresh cheese and all-you-can-eat thali platters. Their chefs whip up spicy morsels for dine-in customers and for their catering business, where they transport homestyle meals to events such as weddings, corporate meetings, and World’s Greatest Grandpa award ceremonies.
The decor of Habiba Abdi’s restaurant, Gendershe Cuisine, is not ostentatious—she tries to impress the four senses besides sight. The aroma of all-halal meats marinating in signature spices tints the air, heralding Somali entrees such as the hilib ari, a goat dish that OC Weekly deemed "gamy and glorious." Mango lassis cool the tongue with a mix of almond milk, fruit pulp, orange juice, and vanilla. Pieces of bur—somali fry bread baked onsite—engage the hands, encouraging patrons to soak up lingering sauces with their dough instead of a friend's shirtsleeve. All the while, guests absorb the sizzling sounds of salmon and tilapia being sautéed in the kitchen's special "mother sauce."
Named after the Somalian city where Abdi’s father grew up, Gendershe Cuisine is an outpost of a kind of cooking rarely found in the United States, much less Orange County. Even so, Somalia’s rich culinary tradition—influenced over the years by Italy, India, and surrounding East African cultures—means that many dishes may look familiar even to the uninitiated. Crispy, triangular sambusas are relatives to indian samosas, ethiopian injera pops up beneath stews of beef, chicken, goat, or fish, and spaghetti and lasagna lie under sauces subtly spiked with Somali herbs and spices.