Omar's occupies the old Mama's Kitchen on New Ave., just below Valley. I was sad to see the ownership change if only because Mama's Kitchen had been there FOR YEARS and I always thought their "Da La" beef noodle soup was one of the best in the area (I've since switched allegiances to Tasty Noodle but that's neither here nor there). I was curious to see what new place took it over and was very pleasantly surprised to see that they now specialize in Xinjiang-style cuisine.
Xinjiang is a massive province in the northwest part of China and thus is more Muslim-influenced than many other parts of the country. The best known (though not only) ethnic group from that area are the Uyghur and Omar's is run by a female Uyghur chef who - call me crazy - reminds me a lot of Amy Hill. Anyways...
Out here in the SGV, the venerable China Islamic includes some Xinjiang dishes but from what I understand, their menu isn't really defined/dominated by that region. Likewise, I've noted that JTYH over in Rosemead has a few Xinjiang dishes too, namely their hand-pulled noodles and an impressively spicy version of "lamb with cumin" though it's very different from what Omar's serves (I'll come back to this later).
Omar's seems intent on being this region's Xinjing/Ugyhur spot and while I'm hardly a native informant as to how well they accomplish this, based on my first meal there, I'm quite excited at seeing what they're bringing to the table.
I went with a party of 5 - my parents (who've eaten a good deal of Xinjiang cuisine having lived in Shanghai for several years), my wife and my daughter. We ordered 5 dishes and they arrived in this order:
1) Lamb with cumin: http://poplicks.com/wp-content/upload...
At JTYH, these are served as very lean ribs, fried with not just cumin but covered in those tongue-numbing Sichuan peppers. At Omar's, they seem more deep-fried, are far bigger (more like pork rib size) and are very liberally doused in both cumin and salt. Personally, I felt like they needed to go easy on the salt. I like salty and I found this way too salty. But then again, it was deep-fried lamb ribs so it was tasty, regardless. Good but not great. Dial down the salt and I think you have a pretty good starter dish. I'd be tempted to get this a second time but more likely, I'd try something new.
2) Hand-pulled noodles: http://poplicks.com/wp-content/upload...
I love noodles and I love lahmein (hand-pulled noodles) especially: they're long, thick, with great bite. And while this dish doesn't look like much aesthetically, the flavors were fantastic. The noodles are cooked separately and then topped with a stir-fry of lamb, onions, red peppers, green peppers and celery and there's a very fresh snap to the flavor from the vegetables that go great with the noodles. Because the noodles are long - forearm long - they can be a bit awkward to eat but to me, it was well-worth the trouble. Would definitely order again.
Suggestion: one of their signature plates that we didn't order but did see is their "Big Plate of Chicken" (actual name) and as the name suggests, it's a big plate of chicken, served a top lahmein. Next time, I would order this for certain, especially with a large group of people. Seems like the best of both worlds though not having actually tried the chicken itself, I can't say how well that's cooked. Looked great though.
3) Meatloaf Sandwiches: http://poplicks.com/wp-content/upload...
It's basically a ground-beef meat pie, served very hot out of a fry pan. Texture-wise, especially with the juices of the beef soaking into the crust, it reminded me of pan-fried bao (shengjian bao) but these are more awkward to eat since the crust loses its tensile strength as they become soggy (which happens very quickly) and so you end up having to break it apart on your plate and then eaten as pieces. Flavor-wise, this was good, but really wasn't anything to write home about. Would not order on a second trip.
4) Cucumber with garlic: http://poplicks.com/wp-content/upload...
If you like veggies...don't come here. There is a stunning lack of vegetable dishes on the menu (I have no problems with this whatsoever but I know others who might) and so we ordered this standard cold cucumber dish just to add some green to our dinner. Good but you can also get this pretty much everywhere in the area.
5) Xinjiang Zhuafan: http://poplicks.com/wp-content/upload...
I was curious what this was so were ordered it: it's less like a fried rice dish and a lot more like a Xinjiang take on paella: a subtly fat-infused rice plate with bits of vegetables and topped with sliced lamb. I enjoyed this a lot: it was pleasantly unctuous but didn't feel heavy or overly rich. I do think it would have been better if we had also ordered a dedicated lamb dish to go with it - the rice, by itself was good, but it would have worked better as a side dish than a standalone entree. I would absolutely order this again though.
Random observations: They could use bigger plates and a rice bowl would be great. Service was good though they only seemed to have one person staffing the tables. Luckily, it's a small space in there and almost all the tables were taken by the time we left; word has clearly gotten out.
Price-wise, most of the entrees were between $10-13 and our total bill for all five dishes was $60, not including tip. That surprised me - normally, for that number of plates, I'm used to Chinese meals running about 20% less but it's not like the bill was exorbitant either.
Alas, that's it. There were many other menu items I was curious about and I probably should not have let my parents order everything since they played it more conservative than I would have gone but hey, that just means it's worth going again. I encourage the SGV Chowhounders to make a trip and also report back; I love these regional Chinese places for the new dishes to bring this area's greater culinary diversity.
Omar's Xinjiang Halal Restaurant
1719 New Ave. San Gabriel
Omar's Xinjiang Halal Restaurant
1719 N New Ave, San Gabriel, CA 91776
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