On first visit, Nomad Asian Bistro can be a hard beast to pin down. Just when you think that the two-month-old restaurant's menu is just a bunch of Chinese classics like broccoli and beef and orange chicken, there is a little asterisk on the bottom that says “all meats are certified halal.”
Then you realize that pork, a staple in Chinese cooking, is not one of the meat options and the daily specials scrawled on the sidewalk chalkboard–which recently included cumin lamb and garlic jalepeno shrimp–were a little more adventurous than most Mandarin spots.
It all begins to add up when owner Linda Campillo comes over to the table and kindly explains that her family are Hui, a Muslim ethnic group from Northwestern China, and that hundreds of her mother Jamilla Ma's recipes are also on deck at a string of Ma-owned Islamic Chinese restaurants from downtown L.A. to Anaheim.
Hidden in an out-of-streetview location in the wetland-adjacent depths of The Marketplace on 2nd Street and PCH, Nomad is the family's first move into Long Beach and features a pared-down array of accessible Ma specialties.
For lunch, there are more than a dozen chicken, beef, seafood and tofu combos for less than $10, each being accompanied by some rice and a cup of the soup of the day. If you're lucky, the soup is chicken sweetcorn–a cross between egg drop soup and Eastern-European corn chowder. It pairs well with everything from the nutty cashew chicken to the sweet-spicy balanced kung pao beef, both sauces for which taste just as good meat-tossed as they do soaked into hearty grains of steamed rice.
Though well-made and flavorful, the lunch specials on the printed menu are more of the standard Chinese fare. So for a taste of the nomadic influences that gave the place its name, start every meal with some of Ma's handmade Hui starters.
The green onion pancakes and sesame flatbread are lifted straight from the family's Orange County restaurants and, as thin breads used for wrapping or dipping, show the outside influence embedded in northern Chinese food.
Pan-fried potstickers are also Ma-made each day and come with a oily soy-vinegar dipping sauce filled with julienned ginger and an array of exotic herbs and spices. Thicker dough and a hearty portion of ground chicken keep Nomad's potstickers juicy through the last bite. It would be hard to find a better dumpling in town.
Inspired by Mediterranean, middle-eastern and East Asian culture, Islamic Chinese is a cuisine perfectly suited for diverse Long Beach–a city where every burger stand also serves enchiladas and teriyaki bowls. And at Nomad, the menu includes the familiar standards, but customers are encouraged to trek outside their boundaries for an entirely unique Asian-food experience.
Nomad Asian Bistro, 6563 E. Pacific Coast Hwy (behind the UA Theatre), Long Beach, (562) 430-6888