China Islamic specializes in rarely seen dishes from China’s western provinces.
For a quarter-century, China Islamic has delivered the rarely seen cuisine of China’s Muslim population, which is concentrated in the western provinces. Fatima MA founded the restaurant in 1982, and her family also runs Chinese Islamic restaurants in Anaheim and Long Beach.
I don’t normally frequent restaurants that expressly forbid pig meat, but I allowed my stomach a one-night exemption. Considering I’m such a swine lover, it hurt to find a 1992 LA Weekly review featuring a photo that nixed a pig.
The space features well worn brown cushioned banquettes and booths, mirrors on two walls and a poster for Makkah, Saudi Arabia (aka Mecca).
Our waiter considered the lamb stew “warm pot” the showcase dish, and wanting to make sure we had room to enjoy it, asked whether we wanted to wait 15 minutes for it to cook, or if we preferred to eat other dishes first. We quickly selected the second option. Within minutes, the waiter began filling our dolly with a parade of dishes. To keep pace with our intake, he transferred our fast-diminishing dishes to increasingly smaller plates.
We split the cold 3 Delicacy Combination Platter ($10.95). Home Style Roast Chicken featured nice bronzed skin and juicy meat. Spiced Beef came in crimson sheets. The color was a bit disconcerting, but I enjoyed the texture and flavor. The final selection was Spicy Ox-Tripe, pleasantly firm strips of chile-tossed ox intestine. I’m not sure where China Islamic finds ox organ, but I’m glad they did. They piled the mélange with a central thatch of crunchy shaved scallions.
For Poultry, Alon selected Chicken with Spicy Salt ($8.95), boneless nubs of dark meat lightly battered in salt and fried, served with diced scallions and spicy little red chilies. The salt-crust locked in the tender bird’s juices.
Three Flavor Chow Mein ($5.95) involved a heaping plate of irregularly shaped house-made noodles known as “dough slices” stir-fried with chicken, beef and shrimp. Crisp bean sprouts provided crunch, and there was also cabbage, scrambled egg and a brown sauce that no doubt included soy. It was very good, though the texture was too far past al dente.
At China Islamic, sesame bread is available either flat or fat. Take the option to stud the bread with green onions. We split large Sesame Bread with Green Onion ($6.10), which was sensational, over an inch thick, crispy outside, with layers of fluffy dough inside, folded with treasure troves of cooked scallions. The bread was mysteriously addictive considering there wasn’t huge flavor.
To balance out all the meat and dough, we wanted a vegetable. Our first choice – sautéed pea pod leaves – was sold out, so we settled for Sautéed Chinese Watercress ($7.50). The simply simmered greens were excellent, featuring little more than chopped garlic.
There were four Cold Hors D’oeuvres. For some strange reason, Szechwan Kim Chi ($1.50) was one option. In Korea, chile-slathered preserved cabbage is ubiquitous. This version was all about the vinegar, very pungent, tossed with jalapeños. The peppers hadn’t been cleaned of seeds or veins, so plenty of spice remained.
After a fifteen-minute feeding frenzy, our waiter finally arrived with a steaming “warm pot” filled with Lamb Stew (L $15.50). The bubbling brown liquid was filled with tender bone-on lamb chunks, supple rectangles of creamy tofu, bok choy and flat glass noodles and topped with cilantro. Very flavorful.
I had my doubts, but apparently a meal without hog can actually succeed.
I ended up returning to China Islamic two more times over the years and continue to enjoy the restaurant.
Lamb with pickled cabbage ($8.55) was incredibly salty, maybe even saltier than salt, but the pickled cabbage wasn’t as overpowering as I feared, and the charred lamb shreds were crispy and succulent.
Sesame thin bread with onions ($6.10) was soft and warm, crusted with sesame seeds.
Chinese Cumin Lamb Burger ($5.99) featuring chopped lamb and onion on a fluffy bun.
Hand Pulled Lamb Noodles with Hot Sauce ($13.99) may have been the best China Islamic dish to date, starring firm, flat noodles with a choice of cumin lamb or beef, tossed with chile powder, cabbage, scallions and bean sprouts. They supply scissors to non-Chinese diners, but I stuck with chopsticks.
Los Angeles has seen an increased focus on regional Chinese food over the years, and China Islamic has become an increasingly relevant restaurant as Angelenos take greater interest in global culinary culture.
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