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 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.
The first Kee Wah Bakery appeared in Hong Kong in 1938, where its moon cakes, bridal cakes, and other pastries gradually generated a loyal clientele. In 1985, when much of that clientele had migrated to the United States, Kee Wah set down new roots in LA to offer its signature floury goods to Californians. Patrons pick from crispy egg tarts, red-bean swirls, and pineapple crust buns using a self-serve bakery system, which is refilled with fresh breads baked three times a day. During the autumn, when the Chinese Lunar Festival is in full swing, the bakery churns out moon cakes filled with lotus seed and red-bean paste. The shop's three locations in the San Gabriel Valley—Monterey Park, San Gabriel, and Rowland Heights—help meet the demand for Chinese wedding cakes and almond cookies throughout the valley.
Since its modest beginnings as a three-table Arcadia eatery, Starlight Express Chinese Food has expanded into an Old Town Monrovia venue packed with a large dining area, a steam table of quick-serve Chinese favorites, and an array of cooked-to-order specialties. Inside the kitchen, chefs prepare shrimp with black-bean sauce alongside plates of spicy kung pao scallops and sweet-and-sour chicken. The chefs' healthier steamed-veggie dishes fill niches in low-sodium diets. Blue pendant lamps light dining-room tables, and red paper fans and framed Chinese characters adorn the walls, with translations meaning "luck," "dragon," and "remember to buy eggs."