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).
Namastey India looks like a small grocery store from the outside, but once inside, you’ll catch a delightful whiff of the OC Weekly's Best Indian Restaurant. According to the Los Angeles Times, owner, chef, and New Delhi transplant Ashish Pal grinds his own spices and bakes every batch of bread to order because he "wanted to do it authentic, do it right, do it the way it should be." Pal churns out regional fare such as channa batura, a spicy chickpea dish, as well as Indian staples, including samosas as perfectly crispy golden as if they were dipped in Midas’s fryer.
In the kitchen of India House Restaurant, Chef Bassi prepares lamb biryani, chicken tikka masala, tandoori shrimp, and other Indian cuisine. Located in the heart of Buena Park, the eatery welcomes guests with lemon-yellow walls and crimson tablecloths.
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.
"Niki's is everything fast food should be: unpretentious but good; cheap but plentiful; and fast, fast, fast," raved OC Weekly in 2010 when it awarded the restaurant the title of Best Fast-Food Indian Orange County. Speed isn't everything, though. At Niki's Indian Cuisine, the chefs specialize in coaxing the savory flavors out of items such as chicken and lamb by roasting skewers inside a traditional, clay tandoor oven. The majority of the menu contains vegetarian-friendly dishes—including entrees featuring lentils, eggplant, and curried chlorophyll—all of which can range from mild to pleasantly spicy.