• Mao’s kitchen: 1930s China on Melrose

    June 20th, 2008mr meanermao's kitchen

    I must admit that I’m a sucker for cold war era imagery. All those gray clothes, communist soldiers marching in line on icy streets under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao while eating Black Bean Tofu (only joking about the last bit, of course). Anyway, a bit of Communist China can be found much further West on Melrose and La Brea in the form of Mao’s Kitchen (sister outlet to Mao’s Kitchen in Venice). This restaurant seems to have it all: Airy interior, not too crowded, “any dish can be prepared vegan” promise on the menu, BYO (for cheapskates like me) and even a friggin’ parking lot — something very rare on Melrose.

    Broccoli and black bean spicy tofu.

    The menu is fairly eclectic, with all the meat options you’d expect plus a healthy selection of delicious appetizers and entrées that would make any vegan proud. If you visit, I recommend starting with the one dollar salad — a medium portion of salad greens with sesame dressing for only (you guessed it) $1.

    One Dollar Salad. Name says it all.

    Most of the dishes have vegan sauces, and in almost all cases meat can be substituted for smoked, fried or soft tofu so you can enjoy sweet and sour, peanut, green curry or black bean (among many others) sauces with your favorite tofu indulgence.

    Also, not on the menu, is something I always get: a side of steamed vegetables. In this dish they take a selection of vegetables and (predictably) steam them without adding any flavoring, except a little salt. The end result mixes nicely with the other dishes and you can pick at it with your fork, fighting your dining partners for the vegetables you like!

    Steamed Vegetables

    Another nice thing about Mao’s is that they give you complimentary “chips” with a plum sauce. The chips are a little like prawn crackers in texture (I’ve never eaten a prawn cracker, but I’m using my imagination here, so work with me), but are vegan and very tasty. Probably 900 calories each (very greasy) being deep friend and all, but they do taste rather good.

    The crispy chips. YUM!

    Now, while I’m a big fan of Mao’s, the entire experience can be very inconsistent (second only to that mecca of chaotic menu interpretations, Pure Luck). You might get a great table, incredible service, exactly what you ordered and pay only $4 for the seamed vegetables. OR, you might be squished against the wall on a two-top hardly big enough for a doll’s tea party with a server who is about as responsive and humorous as a corpse, and a kitchen that essentially sends random dishes to your table.

    Recent case in point was the Broccoli with Black Beans and Grilled Tofu. The picture below shows ONE piece of broccoli on the dish, which was completely and totally lame. Also, that was a dish we’d waited 40 minutes to arrive, and the server basically threw it at the table and ran off. By the time we found him it was to ask for the check and get the hell out.

    Broccoli (singular) with Black Beans and Tofu

    On the whole, I love Mao’s, but I might have a problem persuading my companions that night to return with me, and I hate dining alone. If only they could nail the service, and get some consistency with the dishes I’d be a happy customer.


4 responses to “Mao’s kitchen: 1930s China on Melrose” RSS icon

  • I’m not familiar with this restaurant, but this is one of the best restaurant reviews I’ve ever read. I’d really like to try the Broccoli with Black Beans and Tofu, but 1 broccoli crown is not nearly enough!

  • I was at my local Whole Foods yesterday and they had Liz Lovely cookies at the end of the ice cream aisle. How sad that you can’t find them at yours! 🙁

  • Cool find, I think…

    Funny how broccoli is the first thing mentioned in the name of the dish but also the most neglected. The food does sound and look great though.

  • I go to the Whole Foods in Porter Ranch. It’s on the corner of Tampa and Rinaldi, just off the 118. Is that too far for you to drive for cookies?

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