99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Omar’s Xinjiang Halal

photo by Anne Fishbein

The people who love Omar’s Xinjiang Halal operate as a sort of secret-handshake society, meeting up in the parking lot behind the decidedly inauspicious San Gabriel Valley restaurant in small groups. Only difference is that the point of their excursion is the lamb and noodles inside instead of, well, whatever other reason you meet someone in a parking lot. And what a point it is. This is Islamic Uyghur cooking, in the manner of Xinjiang, which is the northwestern corner of China bordering Mongolia and about a half-dozen other mountainous countries. Bring lots of friends, because you’ll over-order in remarkable ways. And send someone in to reconnoiter, to grab a table and order the Big Plate Chicken, which takes a while to make, especially if you order it (as you should) with the fantastic hand-pulled noodles. Then order as many variations of lamb as you can manage while you wait for that plate — which comes loaded with chicken and noodles and vegetables and a remarkable sauce, plus a pair of scissors to manage the noodles. The family that owns the place will keep your pot of tea filled, and a small boy might Rollerblade through the cozy dining room pulling noodles (not kidding). Shake hands. Tip well. Plan your next visit. Reconsider Rollerblades.

-- Amy Scattergood