A week ago, I drove 60 miles to Orange County, just so I can lug home food from Niki's Tandoori, a fast-food Indian restaurant in Costa Mesa. Well, after driving all that distance, I was sooo disappointed to learn that they closed down the Costa Mesa branch on Bristol Street. I'm not sure why they closed the restaurant, because it was always well-attended, the service was always brisk, and the food decent and cheap. In place of Niki's Tandoori now stands a (Mexican) Chipotle restaurant that will soon open.
Since my safety Indian establishment has now disappeared, I knew I had to consult my fellow Chowhounders. A number of Chowhounds recommended Al Noor as their choice of Indian/Pakistani cuisine. Food critic Jonathan Gold also gave a raving review of Al Noor.
Three days ago, I visited Al Noor around 2 p.m., away from the rush hour. I ordered the traditional Indian dishes, even though Al Noor is more Pakistani. I ordered the following items:
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA: This is boneless chicken pieces cooked in Al Noor’s own "special herbs" and garnished with fresh cilantro. Very spicy.
SHRIMP TIKKA MASALA: Shrimp cooked in Al Noor’s own special spices, herbs, and garnished with fresh cilantro. This dish really is EXACTLY like the chicken tikka masala, only with shrimp. The shrimp was small and too dry (likely overcooked). Very spicy.
PANEER TIKKA MASALA: Fresh spinach and cubed cheese cooked in Al Noor’s own special herbs and garnished with fresh cilantro. I would have preferred more spinach and less onions and herbs.
BAIGAN BHARTA: Mashed eggplant cooked in onion, spices, and herbs. This dish was very, very spicy and pungent, even more spicy then the chicken or shrimp tikka masala, if that is even possible.
GARLIC NAAN: Positively fantastic! Both the plain naan and garlic naan were excellent, but the garlic naan in particular. Jonathan Gold described the garlic naan as “slightly clumsy,” but I thought it held up well. My garlic naan certainly did not fall apart, but maybe this was because I was shoving it into my mouth so quickly. More importantly, it was delicious. In fact, I could not stop eating the garlic naan, initially to the neglect of all the entrees I ordered.
PLAIN RICE. For $1.99, you get a HUGE amount of rice.
Until I visited Al Noor, I had not tasted Pakistani food. Since I had a craving for Indian food, I ordered what I believe are the more classical Indian dishes. Well, I now know how Pakistani food differs from Indian food. For one, Pakistani food is a hell of a lot spicier. The woman who took my order (it turns out she is the wife of the owner) asked how spicy I wanted the dishes. I said, “Mild.” She wrote down mild but THEN asked if I wanted it “mild” or “regular.” I thought I had JUST indicated “mild,” but apparently you can get “regular mild” or “mild mild”? I THOUGHT I ordered the “mild mild,” but all my orders were very, very spicy, which I didn’t mind, but I would have preferred the dishes slightly less spicy.
The dishes were all very pungent and flavorful. They certainly had an intense kick to them. In fact, they would have knocked my socks off...had I been wearing socks instead of open-toed sandals.
Finally, the dishes were all so colorful. I have never seen dishes as intensely orange or vibrant as the chicken and shrimp tikka masala dishes. The dark green color of the paneer tikka masala and the olive hue of the baigan bharta served as wonderful contrasts.
As I paid for my order, a gentleman came out of the kitchen. He wore a white dress shirt. I assumed he was the owner, and it turns out that he was, but he was also the sole cook. I told the owner that I found out about Al Noor from Chowhound, and gave him Chowhound’s web address. I learned a little bit about the history of Al Noor, and the behind-the-scene activities.
Al Noor has been at its present location in Lawndale for 9 years. This is a small restaurant, located in a strip mall very close to the 405 freeway. This establishment is positively received, and the owner indicated that the restaurant is often crowded. The owner indicated that he does all the cooking and cleaning himself, a feat that surely must be exhausting. He would like to hire help, but knows that if he hires a cook/cooks, the flavors of the food would change. I suspect, as the owner did as well, that the food would become inauthentically Pakistani/Indian and less flavorful, and likely would lead to a decline in customers.
This is a family-run establishment. The wife serves as the host mainly, and she comes to the restaurant everyday with her husband, even when she is ill, as she apparently was on the day I visited.
All in all, in spite of the spiciness and extremely pungent nature of the food, I found all of the dishes to be delicious, colorful, generously portioned, and very reasonably priced. I would definite return to Al Noor.
15112 Inglewood Avenue
Lawndale, CA 90260
11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. (closed on Monday).