Best Asian Bistro: Nomad
The Hui people, an ethnoreligious group concentrated in northwestern China, follow Islam. This means their food must be halal, and they do not eat pork, although that is the most popular meat in China. Typical dishes include lamb offal soup, cumin lamb, stewed oxtails, braised beef with hand-cut noodles and roti chicken wrap — all of which you can try at Nomad Asian Bistro in Long Beach.
Located in the Long Beach Marketplace, Nomad looks like just another fast food restaurant, but inside are Islamic touches like the lettering behind the front counter. About half of the menu represents Hui cuisine, which absorbed Persian and Middle Eastern influences from Silk Road travelers. The rest ranges through other regions, from Cantonese walnut shrimp to Szechuan spicy green beans and a Mandarin seafood hotpot.
Additional Hui dishes include Xi’an lamb tripe sautéed with Szechuan peppercorns and green onions, sesame bread, and salt and pepper fish.
There’s one Vietnamese dish, filet mignon with black pepper sauce. Restaurant manager Cary Huynh is Chinese-born in Vietnam and can arrange catering menus with fusion dishes that are not on the regular menu. All dishes are halal, and many are gluten free.
Nomad’s menu is as extensive as any in the San Gabriel Valley, and on weekends the restaurant is as crowded as places there. Six years old, it’s one of very few Chinese Islamic restaurants in the Los Angeles area. —Barbara Hansen
6563 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach; (562) 430-6888.
Best New Restaurant: Auburn
My love affair with Auburn started long before I set foot into the sleek open Zen space in West Hollywood designed by the Klein Agency.
It began at the less traveled Virginia Park farmers market in Santa Monica every Saturday morning, where I was shoulder to shoulder with either owner and chef Eric Bost or executive sous chef Armen Ayvazyan selecting sturdy purslane, kohlrabi and sharp purple radishes from Valdivia Farms.
The affair was consummated once good friend Hema and I dined under a starlit sky next to the purple acacia and explored Bost’s innovative tasting menu, which elevated those rugged vegetables into culinary magic and artistry.
The radishes were transformed into delicate flowers topping the hiramasa crudo with blackberries and finger limes in a refreshingly cool celery broth. The black cod is served in a sauce made from its own bones, smoked over embers with brown butter and watercress. The aged Sonoma duck is paired with roasted figs and mustard greens, cooked to perfection. For dessert, the delicate Peruvian pichuberry with seaweed provides an icy finish that is completely unique to L.A.
There are 12 selections on the ever-changing seasonal tasting menu, with four courses at $85, six courses for $115 and nine courses at $160; wine pairings are extra.
What boosts Auburn into A+ category is the service. There isn’t a question they can’t immediately answer or a dilemma that can’t be solved. Upon discovering I left my reading glasses in the car, I had a brief optical emergency in reading the menu. Overhearing my panic, the waiter appeared on cue with a pair of reading glasses of my own personal strength. Prepare yourself for an ethereal experience. —Michele Stueven
6703 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 486-6703, auburnla.com.