Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mandarin Noodle Deli - Temple City, CA

Certain friends have been ranting and raving about Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City for quite a while now. Temple City is a bit far out there, but today I made the drive out to join the throngs of people, all Chinese, waiting for a table. The smart regulars would order their food before they got a table so that food was ready and coming out as they sat down. We were seated after a short wait, but the three waitresses managing the room were too busy to get to our order immediately and we waited some ten minutes (which in high-turnover Chinese restaurants, is an exceedingly long time).

The three of us ordered five dishes. Be prepared to tell the waitress, “No,” because she will be recommending dishes to you even after you’ve ordered more than enough to have to ask for a doggie bag. I saw several tables order their fair share of food and yet the waitresses would still recommend dishes. Every table was taking some food home. On a surprisingly good note, the dishes and utensils were impeccably clean, a seemingly rarity in high-turnover Chinese restaurants. For a refreshing drink, try their strawberry juice instead of ordering the traditional tea.

Although we’ve been told their dumplings are quite good, we decided to skip an order of dumplings to try their thin onion pancake ($2.90) and their sliced beef with pancake ($5.99), both of which we’ve heard fabulous things about. Their thin onion pancake was ok; I’ve had better. Personally, I like them a little bit greasier, not as fried, and with more scallions. Their sliced beef with pancake was essentially rolls of fried pancake stuffed with sliced beef and scallion. I’ve heard a lot about this dish and thought it was very well made. Perhaps the beef could have used a little bit more seasoning, but I was not disappointed and would recommend the dish.

Cold Spicy Beef Tendon ($5.45) is a popular dish in many restaurants and one of my favorites. We were sorely disappointed with this dish here. The beef tendons were of good quality, but they did a horrible job of slicing and presenting them appropriately. On top of that, this dish, when properly made, is supposed to be numbingly hot. However, the dish was neither numbing, nor hot. I do not recommend the dish.

As we waited for our order to be taken, we noticed that nearly every table was ordering a chicken dish. Whether this was because the dish was good or because the waitresses just kept recommending it, I don’t know, but we decided to try it. The Sun Tung Chicken Salad ($7.50) really was nothing more than shredded chicken (some with skin on still, but those are the tasty pieces) atop a bed of cucumber chunks. It was then covered with a light sauce which appeared to be a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and chicken stock. I personally liked this dish quite a bit and while it was good, my lunch companions didn’t think it was as amazing as our waitress described it as. I get the feeling that the waitresses would have been the type to say, “Oh, everything’s good here.”

That would have been enough to fill our stomachs, but the waitress suggested we get a noodle soup, so we easily succumbed. We had ordered the Beef Tendon Noodle Soup ($5.55) but the waitress recommended that we get the Beef Stew/Tendon Noodle Soup ($5.95) instead, so we did. The dish was good and jam packed with a lot of noodles, even if the beef itself was somewhat lacking. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but the broth was tasty, the noodles cooked just right and the beef very tender. I would recommend this dish over any of the other dishes I tried, and may very well go back to try some of their other noodle dishes because of it.

Bargain Chinese eats are a favorite of mine, especially when you can order a whole bunch of little items to try. At $12/person with tip, this restaurant is certainly higher than many other restaurants in the area, but I thought the value was there. And apparently others did too because as we left, there was still a line of people waiting to get in.


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