We need to lay some ground rules for this review. In picking the best Chinese restaurant in and around Tustin, we decided some additional categories were in order. Some upscale restaurants have been created that serve Chinese food, such as P.F. Chang's China Bistro. The food there is great, but not the sort of general fare a family goes for on a Tuesday night when no one feels like cooking. We wanted to find the sort of restaurant that a family goes to when the consensus is that everyone "feels like Chinese food." To that end, we created the category,
"Best Traditional Chinese Restaurant".
As if to mock our new "Traditional" category, along came Jamillah Garden. This restaurant serves the sort of traditional Chinese food we were seeking, but it is a Chinese Islamic Restaurant, serving halal meat*. Sorry, but we are not going to create yet another category. So, while Jamillah Garden's restaurant has some menu items that are not standard fare at a traditional Chinese restaurant, we will simply say that this is the best traditional Chinese restaurant in and around Tustin (albeit with some extras).
One of the first tests of a Chinese restaurant comes from its noodles and fried rice. Order the chow mein (which my daughter always does) and look at the noodles. If the noodles clump together and are starchy, you have yourself a restaurant that is not cooking fresh. The same is true of the rice. It should not come in clumps or have that awful brownish-grey color. Also, if you order shrimp-fried rice, it should not only be shrimp fried in the technical sense, where at some point during the day there were a shrimp or two in the pan so your rice has acquired
the spirit of a shrimp's ancestor. In other words, there should be shrimp in your rice. At Jamillah, it is more like "shrimp with rice" than shrimp-fried rice; no scrimping on the shrimp.
Since we were rating this as a "traditional" Chinese restaurant, on early trips we stuck to the traditional dishes during our visits. In addition to the aforesaid shrimp-fried rice and chow mein, we ordered such standard fare as kung pao shrimp, sweet and sour chicken, walnut shrimp, moo shu chicken and beef with broccoli. All were excellent and freshly prepared (which is not to say prepared when we ordered, but none had the consistency of food that had been sitting in warming trays for hours). We have visited Jamillah Garden several times
since or initial visit, straying into the slightly less traditional fare (but always with chow mein for my daughter), and we have never been disappointed.
The only complaint ever lodged during any of our trips to Jamillah Garden came from our 12-year-old son. In his mind there is only one Chinese dish in existence -- orange chicken. He did not like the orange chicken at Jamillah, but that was only because it did not match the recipe used at most Chinese restaurants, namely, some sort of chicken by-product wrapped in an inch of deep fried breading and dipped in a super sweet orange sauce. By that standard, the orange chicken was inexcusable at Jamillah since it consisted of actual chicken in a light orange
sauce. In case the sarcasm is escaping you, the orange chicken was delicious and not at all worthy of criticism.
2512 Walnut Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-9 p.m. .
Dinner for two, $15-$30, excluding drinks.
No alcohol. All major credit cards accepted.
*The term halal meat simply means the meat that is permitted under Islamic law.