Mandarin House: Following The Guru to $5 Noodles and Black Sauce
I still remember the very first time I had Korean food. I was 18 years old, and visiting my dad at work. He suggested Korean, I said sure (?), and we headed down the street to what I’m assuming was the only Korean restaurant in Downtown Miami. I remember them bringing out the little plates of what I now know are called banchan, and my dad telling me I had to try this stuff called kimchee. “It’s the worst tasting thing you’ll ever eat. And really spicy.” “Well, if it tastes so terrible why would I want to eat it?” “That’s the thing, son. It’s so bad, that eventually you’ll start to like it.” I took one bite, and as promised it was pretty bad… but sure enough, 10 minutes later I was like “hmmm, maybe I’ll try another bite of that weird cabbage stuff”. I was hooked.
The other thing I remember about that meal is what my Dad ate for lunch that day- and this is truly amazing because I have the worst memory of all time (although it’s not suprising that this is the shit I remember.) It was a large bowl of noodles topped with this thick brown sauce, with onions and little cubes of meat. It was delicious. And for almost 10 years I never saw the dish again, and pretty much forgot about it entirely.
It wasn’t until a few years ago (in NYC) that I discovered the phenomenon of Korean Chinese food. Chinese food is enormously popular in Korea, where the menus have been adapted to cater to Korean tastes. And the most popular dish by far (the “orange chicken” or “chow mein” of Korea, if you will) is jjajangmyeon, a bowl of noodles topped with Korean black bean sauce, onions, veggies (usually zucchini) and little cubes of meat. (It’s a Korean take on the Chinese dish zha jiang mian, or “noodles with brown sauce”.) It was kind of a eureka moment for me… realizing that all those years ago, my dad had actually taken me to a Korean/Chinese food restaurant. It also explained why in all my years of feasting on bi bim bap, and bulgogi, and kalbi, and japchae, I had never seen that noodle dish again. I was too busy eating at “real” Korean restaurants!
Flash forward to yesterday when I decided it was time to start checking lunch spots off of Jonathan Gold’s “The Guru’s” 99 Things to Eat in L.A. before you die list. What’s that? Mandarin House in Koreatown serves an “out of this world” version of cha chiang mein with hand pulled noodles!? Yes please.
The lunch menu at Mandarin House (also known as Jin Heung Ghak) is pretty standard American/Chinese fare- think beef w/ broccoli, chop suey, and orange chicken. And if it wasn’t for the kimchee they bring you at the beginning (a fairly fresh, and unfunky version that I swear tasted vaguely Chinese), and the Koreatown location, you would never confuse this with Korean food. But their “Black Bean Sauce Noodle” is jjajangmyeon through and through.
You can order it with seafood (#4 on the menu) or with ground beef instead of pork (#5), but purists (and cheapskates) should go for the original: #3. Black bean sauce noodle. I’ve never had a bowl of jjajangmyeon that wasn’t difficult to eat, and this one was no exception. The noodles are long, the sauce is thick, and if you don’t get sauce splattered on your shirt than you are doing something wrong. So much food, and completely delicious. Noodles and black bean sauce is a fairly basic Korean/Chinese food dish, and really isn’t the kind of thing that is going to knock your socks off (more like a comfort food, of sorts). So don’t expect to be completely wowed. But it’s a great lunch, and if you have never tried this dish before Mandarin House is a good place to start.
Oh…and the best part is the price! It’s only $4.99 at lunchtime!?! That’s right. $5 for a gigantic bowl of hand pulled noodles and pork. Thank you Guru. You have done it again.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- $5!? That can’t be right…
- The noodles are hand pulled. How can you argue with that?
- So much food
- Did I mention it’s only $5!?!
- Free kimchee at a Chinese food restaurant. Sweet!
- My boring co-worker, who isn’t into delicious Korean/Chinese noodles, can order beef w/ broccoli
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I like my kimchee with a bit more kick (and funk)
- Not enough meat in the black bean sauce! Where’s the meat!?
- I’ve never had a noodles with black bean sauce that wowed me
- Too many onions, and I don’t like onions
- It’s not as good as it used to be
- If I’m in Koreatown I’d rather have Korean BBQ. Or bi bim bap.
Mandarin House/Jin Heung Ghak, 3074 W 8th St, 213-386-8976