Take a daytrip to Ningxia at this newcomer to Kenny Centre Mall

At Xi Xia Western Chinese Cuisine, diners are offered regional fare not often highlighted on Chinese menus in the city.

For 29-year-old Luzhou Sha, opening an eatery was a no-brainer. Even though he’s a photographer by trade, didn’t have a lot of experience in the kitchen and had never owned a business, he was still driven to showcase food from his native land, the Ningxia autonomous region in north-central China. “When I was young, I liked cooking,” he says. “I thought maybe I could open a restaurant.”

Sha moved to Columbus in 2010 to join his mother stateside and study photography. He honed his restaurant skills as manager at Mr. Pot, located a few doors away from his own business, Xi Xia Western Chinese Cuisine, at Kenny Centre Mall, Columbus’ international hub.

Named after an 11th-century Chinese empire that once covered Ningxia and neighboring lands, the recently opened eatery showcases hearty, scratch-made dishes that you won’t find on average Chinese menus in the city.

Perhaps the most interesting specialties on Xi Xia’s menu are its entrées with lamb, which Sha says is the meat of choice for the people of Ningxia region and, in particular, its decent-sized Muslim population, the Hui people. (Pork, an item on many Chinese menus, isn’t available at Xi Xia.) An outstanding lamb preparation is the Signature Rice Pilaf ($12), featuring tender cubes of the protein complemented by raisins, carrots, onion and potato in jasmine rice and a house-made oyster sauce.

Another highlight is the restaurant’s noodles; the dough is made in-house and then machine-cut, making them chewy and exceptionally fresh. The stirred noodle entrées showcase the specialty, my favorite of which is the version with tomato and egg ($10), which features a light, almost sweet, tomato broth as the base.

Xi Xia offers a Sichuan-inspired Spicy Dry Hot Pot ($17), which is not native to Ningxia but is a wildly popular dish across China. The salty, fiery dish combines an interesting mix of proteins, including large whole shrimp and a smattering of plant items including lotus root and enoki mushroom. It comes paired with rice.

At the start of a meal, guests are greeted with edamame, seaweed or fermented vegetables. Sha says these welcome dishes are a standard gesture of hospitality in Ningxia. When savored with the restaurant’s entrées, the delicacies—one standout was a sweet, pickled potato—add a layer of complexity to the restaurant’s already expertly prepared offerings.