The complexity of Indian spices can be intimidating at first. Curries explode in a huge range of colors, bestowed by ginger, coriander, basil, and peppers. Cardamom pods, cloves, and bean-like tamarind look alien at first glance. Arun Puri, head chef at Royal Khyber, harnesses that intricacy, artfully folding more than 38 different herbs and spices into innovative north Indian dishes with healthy twists.
The chef, who has been lauded by publications including the Daily Pilot, uses cream, butter, and oils sparingly, instead whipping up lighter sauces and tandoori breads fortified with protein powder. As he works, mesquite charcoals blaze within an imported tandoori clay oven, grilling meat, seafood, and poultry dishes at temperatures of up to 450 degrees, hot enough to melt diamonds back into delicious carbon. Out in the dining hall, the dishes pair with fine wines and cocktails among cushy silk pillows and intricate Indian artwork.
Traditions' authentic Indian menu sates spice-seekers with a host of chicken, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian dishes, all of which are made and spiced to order. The refreshing lentil, mango corn, tomato, and Mulatwani soups (all $3.50) revitalize tired taste buds and bring meaning to the lives of previously empty bowls. A vast selection of entrees helps diners find their culinary love connection, whether it be with the chicken coconut curry ($11.95), the tandoori shrimp ($14.95), or the mugali lamb biryani ($12.95). Release your inner herbivore with a smorgasbord of vegetarian options, or coat throats with the strawberry lassi ($3.50), a popular cold drink made from yogurt, milk, and Indian spices.
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.
Using traditional ingredients, Mughal Halal Tandoori has created an extensive menu of authentic Indian entrees bursting with a variety of flavors. Send taste buds down a culinary river with a range of Indian breads, including garlic naan (stuffed with freshly diced garlic, $1.50) and aloo kulcha (paratha filled with mildly spiced mashed potatoes and peas, $2.50), before docking at curry port, which is occupied by the likes of murgh makhni (butter chicken curry, $7.95) and tala ghost (lamb curry, $8.95). In addition to specialty dishes cooked in the tandoori, Mughal Halal Tandoori serves up a variety of vegetarian options, such as the bhindi masala (mildly seasoned okra, onion, ginger, and garlic, $6.95) and the bagara baigan (Indian eggplant cooked Hydrabadi style, $6.95). Cleanse a spice-soaked palate with the mango lassi, a traditional Indian drink churned with yogurt and milk and flavored with mango ($2).
Don't feel like cooking? Pull up a seat at Punjabi Tandoor and treat yourself to a taste of India. Low-fat eaters will need to take care, however, since the menu does not feature any skimmed down fare. Families will feel right at home at Punjabi Tandoor with its kid-friendly menu and atmosphere. At Punjabi Tandoor, there's no need to confine your meal to a traditional dining room — outdoor seating is available when the weather is warm.
Throwing a big party? Count on Punjabi Tandoor to provide top-notch catering with the same great dishes you love. If you need to get somewhere fast, the restaurant also serves up grub to go.
You can eat for next to nothing at Punjabi Tandoor, where a typical meal will cost you less than $15.