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Sep 11, 2010 08:26 AM

You, Me and Ugyhur: Omar's Xinjiang Halal (SGV, Pics/Review)

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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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  1. This place is really overpriced.

    I dunno how long you can hang around SGV when you are charging $14 for a plate of noodles (even if they are hand-pulled). No one does that in SGV (west or east).

    Even the noodles (hand made) at China Islamic top out $9.

    1. Well, when MaMa's Kitchen moved around the corner, a new place, King's Cup opened up at the old location earlier this year, so you're telling me it only took a few months for them to close shop. You may not know it, but the opening of a Uighur restaurant here is national news, as Hounds on both coasts have been desperately searching for a source of that cuisine. There is a place that serves Uighur food in the Russian part of Brooklyn, and apparently that's it, despite a representative Uighur population in the Washington D.C. area and on the east coast. I once ate at a Uighur restaurant in Montreal, but that recently closed down, so it's great to have this alternative.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        Only opened for about 2 months.

        I've always felt that King's Cup made a very underrated and underappreciated beef roll.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          If King's Cup made an underrated beef roll, you should have told us. The only mention of King's Cup here at Chow was when Chandavkl made a visit on opening day back in January and they were having some first day struggles. No one ever reported back on more of the menu.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              All is forgiven. With all your great efforts here, I can overlook it :-)

              As much as you've covered in the SGV, I don't know how you manage to inform us of as much as you do...but I'm thankful for it.

        2. re: Chandavkl

          Yeah, King's Cup had a super short life there; I didn't even bother to mention it for that reason. Didn't realize Mama's Kitchen moved around the corner.

          I agree that the prices felt high, at least relative to portion size. The quality of the food was good but not notably higher than other spots. That said, I'll give this some run just for the diff in cuisine

          Mama's Kitchen
          1718 New Ave, San Gabriel, CA 91776

        3. thanks for the review, seems interesting but not sure if I want to pay that much per entree for Chinese. Not that I wouldn't pay more in any other type of cuisine but this is the SGV though and in this kind of economy most restaurants are slashing prices.

          1. what is this JTYH you speak of? and by the way, might you answer my question in this thread, since it is one of my ongoing pressing concerns -- the best lamb with cumin ever?


            13 Replies
            1. re: echoparkdirt

              JTYH Restaurant is the new incarnation of the now closed Heavy Noodling. Known for Shanxi knife-cut noodles and more, it's a gem! Mooshu “Cat Ears” Noodles are worth considering here as well.

              JTYH Restaurant
              9425 Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

              1. re: sel

                I respectfully second sel's recs. And the cumin lamb dish we had here was very heavy on whole roasted cumin, chiles (dried and fresh) and finished off with green onion. The lamb itself tends to be kinda gamey and chewy, and there's a fair amount of oil (maybe from the lamb fat?), and the dish can give a jolt reminiscent of strong 3-alarm coffee because of its generous spicing. The cumin will snap your head back. I think if JTYH would use a better quality lamb and maybe pan-fry their noodles with them, I'd go back again and again. But I have to wonder if this type of dish is of very humble roots? My guess would be that JTYH's version is probably pretty standard back in the homeland.

                A few other dishes that I'd rec there are the pan-fried bao, the garlic cucumbers and the panfried onion cakes.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Nothing beats the ice noodles at JYTH.

                  A bowl of iced noodles and a plate of pig's ears, and I'm a happy duck!

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Never had the ice noodles.... I'll have to try them

                    But I have to say, I've generally been underwhelmed with JYTH's entrees. The noodles are well made, the prices are absurdly low, but their dishes are extremely under seasoned. I want to love their xin jian bao, especially when $5-6 buys you enough to feed 3 people. But they're just.... so.... bland. Same with the pan fried noodles. Noodles are great, but bland bland bland. I do like the cold dish appetizers, and their lamb with cumin is flavorful. But I've been disappointed with virtually everything else. Yet I return time and time again, for the cumin lamb, cold dishes and the cheap prices.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Tastebuds and preferences are obviously different.

                      I think most of the dishes are properly seasoned, but some of the pickled dishes sometimes lack a bit of punch, esp. with marinaded seaweed and cucumbers.

                      But if you find the food bland, why not just help yourself to some of the black vinegar or chili sauce that adorns each table?

                      RE: Ice noodles ... Ever had Korean naeng myun? Essentially the same thing, if not the exact same thing.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        >> why not just help yourself to some of the black vinegar or chili sauce that adorns each table?

                        This goes without saying!

                        I almost always order the dough slice chow mien because I'm in love with the texture, but the flavor leaves me hanging high and dry. The problem is that I prefer my noodles to taste of more than 93% vinegar and chili paste.

                        What about the xin jian bao? I've yet to find some that I really, really like.... shau mei/kang kang's are oddly sweet, jyth's are bland.... hm, I can't remember where else I've tried them outside of Taiwan. Did I have them at Noodle House in RH? Can't remember... would love some recs for really delicious ones.

                        As for the comparison of cold noodles to naengmyun, that's of course my (only) frame of reference for iced noodles (aside from the occasional noodley konnyaku salad) so that's a helpful comparison. I'll have to give it a shot.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          Well, the key is to use the vinegar and chili paste judiciously -- to heighten, not overpower.

                          RE: xin jian bao. Try either Mama's Lu or Dean Sin World. Usu. I make xin jian bao at home, but you might as well check out if Omar's has them, you know, the original point of this thred ...

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            >> Well, the key is to use the vinegar and chili paste judiciously -- to heighten, not overpower.

                            yes but to my palate the flavor profile is so minimal as to not be relevant. Any addition of strongly flavored condiments, even added judiciously, immediately overpowers and replaces the flavor.

                            Mr Taster

                          2. re: Mr Taster

                            My problem with xin jiam bao in the sgv is that I've been too spoiled by the Shangahi versions. Nothing I've had here is remotely on the same level in terms of basic execution; i've simply given up on the dish state-side.

                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        Alas, I tried this finally and was left disappointed. Compared to the similar dish I've had in K-Town spots, I found that JYTH's had two shortcomings:

                        1) It wasn't that cold. I want my ice noodles icy-cold, not "sort of cool".
                        2) Their noodles were all clumped together, which meant that, in trying to eat them, you're cramming mouthfuls of noodles at a time since it's very hard to stream them off in a more manageable portions. I've had this happen in a few Korean places but the better ones I've been to, the noodles aren't as stuck together, let alone clumped in a big ball.

                      3. re: bulavinaka

                        I can't rec the boa: looks great, tastes dull. Lamb noodle soup there is awesome though.

                        How are the iced noodles prepared? Never knew they had those.

                      4. re: sel

                        Just saw this discussion. If you go to Tampa and Roscoe around Reseda, there's a CHinese place called Tampa Garden Chinese Delight (in the mall at SW corner). They have Cat's ears noodles as well (mao erduo) BUT the older lady has to be there, etc. But they know how to make them and they're very good.
                        There's some cantonese dishes available and a few good shanxi like dishes on the menu. If you dont' see them, ask them if there's a second menu. On the wall (if you read chinese) they have stuff highlighted. And if you just ask if they can make DaoShao Mian, or Mao Erduo, they might just do it.

                        1. re: Jerome

                          * sigh *

                          I miss Chinese food.

                          Mr Taster
                          of the Portland, OR Tasters

                    2. Looks interesting, but I would agree with ipsedixit: it's quite pricey for the area. It may not survive long in its present form and pricing.