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.
The chefs at R2 Restaurant cook up a menu of East-meets-West fusion fare paired with hot and cold specialty drinks. Dining duos can assuage hunger pangs or attempt to teach other the true meaning of Christmas by sharing starters such as the paper-wrapped chicken or fried tofu. West-leaning appetites are sated with entrees including a seafood alfredo pasta or hot panini, while Eastbound palates can opt for pork fried rice or a curry rice dish. The customizable meals let diners express themselves via choices of rice or pasta, buttered corn or mixed vegetables, a trio of three savory meats, and drizzlings of black pepper, mushroom, or garlic sauce. A generous 24-ounce glass of 1 of 14 different types of iced tea pairs the intricately spiced entrees with exotic flavors such as lychee and plum, and the green boba milk tea lets diners take swift midmeal sips of dairy-infused liquid without toting along their own zip-locked bags of nacho cheese.
The Flame Broiler founder Young Lee found himself eating out of paper bags quite often. His career required a great deal of travel during the day, which made eating from fast food restaurants a habit. Unfortunately, his options for healthier, quick-service fare left him craving something different. In 1995, he took matters into his own hands and opened the first Flame Broiler location, serving Korean-style slices of beef and chicken that were free of dairy, trans-fat, HFCS, and added MSG. He didn't just take away harmful ingredients, though?he also added his signature Flame Broiler marinade and sauce, beds of white and brown rice, and slices of crisp vegetables. This more nutritious take on fast food caught on, as diners can now eat at 135 Flame Broiler locations in four different states and two parallel universes.
The cooks at A&J Hot Point Hot Pot lay the foundation of a delicious, belly-warming meal—the broth—at your table. The rest of the work, they leave to you. The soup remains at a simmer while you submerge the ingredients of your choice, ranging from meats to a variety of veggies. As you dip these morsels into the stew, it simultaneously cooks and flavors them in traditional Chinese dining style.
The broth menu itself is international in scope. Choices range from a Mongolian herbal mix to soups tinged with Korean kimchi and Japanese coconut curry. Some, such as the hot and spicy or spicy chicken broth, add additional fire. Guests dunk unlimited bites into the hot pot during all-you-can-eat lunches and dinners, then balance out the heat with a dessert of ice cream or a nice bowl of cold broth.
Chef Shi Peng might be a bit more attached to his knife than the average chef, but that’s to be expected since he made its blade himself. And it’s carried him through 25 years of carving dao xiao mian, the thick knife-cut noodle that pervades JTYH Restaurant’s popular dishes.