The Same, Only More So
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Out of all the cuisines cooked in Orange County restaurants, the easiest to review is also, paradoxically, the hardest: Mongolian barbecue. You visit one—for the purposes of this write-up, Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbecue and Chinese Cuisine in Lake Forest—and the article publishes itself. You mention how its name reflects some aspect of the Mongol Empire, whether the Great Wall built to keep it out or Temujin. Note that the menu is limited to customers choosing from freeze-dried beef, lamb, pork, chicken or vegetables. Mention that you’ll have to stuff the meat into a bowl alongside veggies and noodles, and hand it to a cook who prepares it over a massive cast-iron stove. Construct some overwrought passage about how miraculous it is that the contents of your bowl shrink in the cooking process to a manageable bulk. Throw in the apocryphal tale that Mongolian barbecue comes from the days of conquerors cooking fresh kills on their shields over a massive campfire. Describe the waiter who brings forth rice, tea and whatever extras your combo specifies—pocket bread, usually; fried shrimp, egg-flower soup and egg rolls always; and once in a while a creamy crab Rangoon. And end the piece with a crack about your distended belly from the all-you-can-eat specials that make running such places an adventure in profit-loss margins.
Honestly, you write one of these reviews, you’ve written them all. Still, I visit at least one of these places every year for critiquing because Mongolian barbecue is a standby for a cheap, filling meal that almost never fails to please—it’s more reliable than a taquería or hamburger joint. And this Genghis Khan (as opposed to the one in Fullerton I’ve visited, and the Genghis Khans in Santa Ana and Fountain Valley that I haven’t) has some extra flourishes. It’s been around for more than 20 years, a bit of history in a city that excised most of it when voters decided to call themselves Lake Forest instead of keeping the El Toro name. The pocket bread bests all its competitors: larger than a man’s outstretched hand, toasty thanks to a sprinkling of sesame seeds but as buttery as pie crust. Slice one open, stuff in meat, and you have an impromptu sandwich. And unlike most of its competitors, Genghis Khan also offers a full Chinese menu. The entrées don’t challenge the nearby Chong Qing Mei Wei or Formosa Chinese, but it’s nice to know you can enjoy sweet-and-sour pork alongside the always-reliable ’cue.
Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbecue and Chinese Restaurant, 23615 El Toro Rd., Ste. P, Lake Forest, (949) 951-8296.