The All You Can Eat Chronicles: Little Trouble in Big Wok

Enough sizzling meat and vegetables to satisfy a horde.

Note: Part of an occasional series on local AYCE restaurants near campus.

In the 2007 film “Mongol,” Genghis Khan, enjoying a barbecue with the wife and kids before annihilating a city in China, talks about wanting to spread his language across the world, starting with the word for meat.

In the more civilized 21st century, he probably could do a good job in doing so with opening a chain of restaurants similar to Big Wok Mongolian BBQ in Manhattan Beach.

A bit of a drive from El Camino College — travel west down Artesia Boulevard and turn right on Sepulveda Boulevard in Manhattan Beach, Big Wok will be on your passenger side as you descend the first hill.

While you won’t learn the Mongolian word for meat, you’ll have plenty of it — frozen chicken, beef, pork, turkey, lamb, tofu and more spread on a buffet line among a mass of noodles and vegetables, which are then seared on a hot stone and served in minutes.

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Consider two bowls on a trip to the buffet line; one for noodles and vegetables, the other for meats, such as lamb pictured here. Curry sauce optional.
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Noodles, vegetables and meats dance on the cooking stone.
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Pictured here are noodles, lamb, a small bit of beef and chicken, water chestnuts, cilantro, pineapple, cabbage, mushrooms and scallions in a curry sauce.

Upon returning to your seat there should be a drink waiting for you along with complimentary rice and toasted sesame seed buns. It’s best to probably make a trip to the restroom to wash your hands just in case from using the tongs to pick up raw frozen meat. This also allows for a chance to let the food and bread cool.

A dispenser for hand sanitizer is located near the buffet as well in case the restrooms are occupied or you don’t want to make the trek across the building.

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Delicious bread, but it tends to be pretty hot to handle. Also, a bit sharp on the gums.

About that bread: it’s fresh and goes well with the meal, but it can have searing hot pockets of air trapped in and the exterior can be crisp and sharp enough to cut your gums. Be careful.

So we’ve discussed the journey. How does the arrival fare when this food goes into your mouth?

The meats are lean, noodles are just right in texture and the produce is fresh.

There’s a variety of sauces at the end of the buffet line that can add more spice. The curry sauce is particularly enjoyable; it’s hot enough to make one cough, salty enough to forget about the table salt, adds a nice punch to the meats and veggies and pairs well with pineapple chunks and crisp water chestnuts.

As for price, it’s not cheap (dinner and a drink reaches close to $20 a person), so if you’re watching the wallet it’s advisable to try to make the lunch sessions. There’s a no leftover policy here for dining in, but food can be taken out and weighed if you’re on the go.

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Take out rules and prices at Big Wok.

This place is not a quiet one. Aside from the scrapes and clanks from the cooking area, it’s generally busy inside and two large screen TVs usually have a sporting event on them with the volume up considerably.

There’s a few issues with Big Wok — you might be queasy about handling raw meat on a buffet line, the overeating risk and the dangerous sesame bread — but at its price and taste, it’s worth it.

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Big Wok Mongolian BBQ is located at 250 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach and is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Phone: (310) 798-1155. Website: http://www.bigwok-mongolian-barbq.com/.

The All-You-Can-Eat Chronicles: Finding Tandoori — India’s Tandoori

The itis is worth it.

Note: Part of an occasional series on local A.Y.C.E. restaurants near campus.

If you want tandoori, you don’t have to leave El Camino for the first flight to India from LAX, as Hawthorne and neighboring Lawndale offer plenty of eateries.

Along Inglewood Avenue are Pakistani restaurants Al-Noor and Al-Watan, both of which have gotten into publications such as LA Weekly as LA’s top fare from that part of the subcontinent. Annapurna in Lawndale, just a short drive from the campus on Hawthorne Boulevard, is closer and offers a lunch buffet, but I find its Southern Indian fare a bit too hot for my tastes (and I went on a hot day where the air conditioner and ice machine in the place failed).

Go further north on Hawthorne Boulevard, about three miles from campus and around a 10-minute drive. Just before the El Segundo Boulevard intersection, on the right-hand side, is India’s Tandoori, which recently returned to the city after leaving its location on Rosecrans Avenue a few years ago for Manhattan Beach. The Hawthorne location is now the latest in a chain of five restaurants across Los Angeles and the South Bay.

And boy, has it made a comeback. I couldn’t hold myself from eating more and getting a case of the itis; that lethargic feeling you get after pigging out.

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The itis was worth it. Clockwise, from top: tandoori chicken thigh, aloo gobi (curry cauliflower), pullao rice, dal makni (lentils), karahi paneer (a spicy sauce with cheese), chana masala (chickpeas), salad and chicken samosa (ground chicken and vegetables in a fried pastry).

I prefer buffets when it comes to Indian restaurants; it allows one to sample a lot of different dishes and judge if the courses are just right one’s personal preferences — some restaurants can be a bit too spicy or too mild. It’s also a bit easier for those new to the cuisine.

India’s Tandoori’s $11.95 halal lunch buffet offers some great flavored tandoori chicken and other dishes. The tandoori chicken — roasted chicken with mild spices and a yogurt marinade that give it a unique red or orange hue — was just right; wasn’t too spicy, wasn’t too overcooked, wasn’t too dry. The coconut curry chicken was nice and sweet, while the lamb curry was tender and flavorful. Only the chicken tikka masala — meat in a spicy tomato sauce — was the letdown; a bit too mild for my tastes.

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Baa, baa, cluck, cluck for the second round of meat dishes. Clockwise from top, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, coconut curry chicken and lamb curry.

But the real stars I found to be in the desserts and appetizers.

At its previous incarnation on Rosecrans, India’s Tandoori didn’t offer ice-cold gulab jamun — fried milk balls soaked in syrup; think really sweet donut holes — on its buffet table. After going through the various flavors of Northern Indian dishes, the cold, sugary gulab jamun brings calm to the taste buds.

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Mmmm … Donut holes of Indian cuisine. Ice-cold and syrupy sweet. By the way, has Apu brought Homer Simpson gulab jamun in an episode of “The Simpsons” yet?

Taste buds that probably got a show from the chicken samosa, with its spicy ground chicken and vegetables wrapped in fried chickpea batter.

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Orange slices and watermelon balance out the spicy flavors of the chicken samosa appetizers.

The only thing I regret is forgetting to tell the staff I wanted plain naan bread. They brought garlic naan instead, which probably gave my stomach more work that day.

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Man cannot live on garlic naan and water alone. Add some curry sauce or mint chutney on the bread.

One thing I plan to try on another trip while chilling to all the food and the Indian music videos in the background will be the lassi drinks; an Indian smoothie-style soft drink made with yogurt and fruits such as strawberry or mango.

India’s Tandoori is a solid recommendation for a lunch buffet trip that can cap an entire day’s meal. Just watch how much you eat, especially if you have to go back for a class. Zoning out from being stuffed isn’t great for tests.

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India’s Tandoori is located at 12866 Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne. The lunch buffet is offered Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; a Saturday champagne brunch is offered at the same time for $2 more. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. Website: http://www.tandoori90250.com.