Have you stopped by Mas' Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it's kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call "L.A. style," are stacked six inches high.
The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas' cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn't, and unafraid of excess.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Islamic Chinese cooking looked like the future; a future awash in sesame sauce and mutton-organ warm pots. When the big Chinese food mall San Gabriel Square was young, the most popular restaurant was probably Tung Lai Shun, inspired by a famous Islamic restaurant in Beijing and serving a style of food we had never seen here before. I used to take visiting cookbook writers to Tung Lai Shun — I was convinced that Richard Olney would find hints of Provence in the plush braised lamb and that Fannie Farmer auteur Marion Cunningham might find inspiration in the flatbreads. (They didn't, but it in no way diminished my admiration.)
I rejoiced in the sharp flavors of the Xinxiang-style mutton skewers at Feng Mao and the short-lived 818 and of the delicious Uyghur cooking at Omar's in San Gabriel. For a while, the halal-restaurant database at zabihah.com seemed as good a place as any to seek out interesting new restaurants, especially given its contributors' emphasis on hospitality and respect, even in the humblest dining rooms.
Mas' Islamic may not be what you would consider a service-oriented restaurant — food can take a long time to get to the table — but it is a cheerful one, perhaps catering more to the needs of large families than to scattered parties of two or three, who can be overwhelmed by the lengthy menu and the sheer quantity of food. It is possible to order things like orange chicken, delivery-style fried shrimp and cream cheese won tons, although I wouldn't recommend it.
You should note that the parking lot includes a lot of bus-size spaces. This is not going to be a 15-minute meal.
What are you going to be eating, then? There is that sesame bread stuffed with green onions, either the giant one or a thinner, somewhat crispier and tastier version that comes out in about a third of the time. (Think of it as thick- versus thin-crust pizza.) You can stuff bits of "Mongolian" beef into the bread, or lamb stir-fried with cumin, dry-fried string beans with chile, or lamb with green onions. If there are a lot of you, you might consider the crunchy bread stuffed with red bean paste too. It isn't a bad dessert.
Most of the cold dishes are lovely — spicy cold beef, cold tripe with chile — especially slices of gently spiced beef tendon pressed into a translucent sort of terrine, and maybe the delicate, slippery mung-bean sheets slicked with garlicky sesame paste.
If Anaheim ever had a cold winter night, the warm pot — a mammoth tureen filled with broth, lamb, cellophane noodles and pickled cabbage — would probably be just the thing. I am fond of what the menu calls "home-style croutons in lamb stew," which resembles the Xi'an dish of braised lamb and dense, torn bread that you may have tasted at one of the Shaanxi-style places in the San Gabriel Valley. The thick, hand-sliced noodles stir-fried with vegetables, lamb and egg, have a nice bite, although they may be heartier than they are refined.
The last time I was in, I asked a manager to recommend a dish that his mother might like. He brought out a loose, steaming tofu omelet in brown sauce, an omelet so heroic in stature that the leftovers filled two quart-size containers. I'm not sure the tofu omelet was my favorite dish at Mas', but I appreciated the gesture. Mom didn't want anyone to go away hungry.
Mas' Chinese Islamic
Jamillah Mas' halal Chinese restaurant in Anaheim
601 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Anaheim, (714) 446-9553, masislamic.com.
Appetizers $5.95-$7.25; cold dishes $9.95-$18.95; dumplings and breads $3.95-$13.95; soups and warm pots $9.50-$26.95; main dishes $9.95-$23.95.
Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Lot parking.
Cold spicy beef tendon; thin sesame bread with green onions; Mas' short ribs; home-style croutons in lamb stew.
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