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By Steven Li on 2007-05-09

May 08, 2007

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The Mandarin Chef in Arcadia is a pretty dinky and super dirty restaurant, even by my standards. I’ll sum it up quick: I’m glad I came to try the lamb satay recommended to me by more than once, but I just couldn’t find the magic in the place, and one visit was enough.

The all-you-can huo guo buffet runs for $13.99, and if you add on $2/person they throw in an order of their house lamb satay.

The satay is done dry style, spicy upon request (which you should always request!) with chunks of lamb, green onions, peppers and garlic. If you get a bit of everything into one bite, it’s quite a heady experience, rich and meaty with near raw garlic and slippery rods of green onion. There seems to be more lamb fat than actual meat in the dish, however taking into consideration that it is an all you can eat, great quality can’t be expected at this price.

I always try to sit on the spicy side of the huo guo pot and only venture to the mild broth section when I’ve accidentally eaten a pepper out of curiosity (or stupidity, whichever your prefer, heehee). The layer of oil covering the hot side is unusually thick, making for a more flavorful, though fatty meal ;)

A trio of ‘dipping’ sauces for you to blend your own combo. From left to right is a peanut sauce, satay sauce and bean curd sauce. The bean curd is my favorite, pungent and devilish salty, slightly thicker than the rest.

You check off anything you want on the list and they bring our mini servings so that you can order and finish a greater variety of dishes. Pictured here is beef and lamb.

We decided to pass on the rice, thinking it would fill us up too quickly and went with some noodles instead.

Prior to this visit, I though that corn would be a strange item to put in huo guo, but it has quickly become one of my favorites. In addition to sweetening the broth, the corn itself is sooo good to eat after being boiled for a few minutes, hot and sweet with spices clinging onto each kernel.

Pollack and shrimp…and something hiding there in the back, which I cannot identify!

A trio of mushrooms – the enoki mushrooms are always my favorite in huo guo.

Just mediocre wonton, with the ratio of skin to meat running about 10 million:1, hehe. Or maybe my grandma’s wontons has already spoiled me beyond all home.

Veggies to be healthy!

If there were one huo guo place I could confidently recommend, it would be San Gabriel’s Little Sheep Café, located on the third floor of the Hilton Plaza. The firs thing you notice when walking in are the bright Christmans lights strung thoughout the entrance – what a welcome! hehe.

It’s the biggest of all the huo guo places I’ve been to and remarkably clean. So clean (and very well lit too)!

We were given a trio of complementary dishes to begin, sliced ginger, boiled peanuts, and sesame sprinkled bread with sweet mashed beans layered in the top half and something salty, tasting mustard cabbage on the bottom half, though I suspect it’s more likely something else.

The huo guo pot! Only downside to this was that the spicy half was the mildest of all the restaurants, the red color of the broth seemed almost to be only for show.

A set of different sauces to mix your own concoction, this is probably the most fun part of the meal cause no sauce every turns out the same and you’d be hard press to succeed in ever making the exact same blend again. Always something new!

The lamb is cut so thin that you could practically see right through the meat, buttery tender and soft, you won’t believe how many plates we went through in a matter of minutes!

The beef was also just as beautiful, a deep meaty red. But I found it hard to eat more than a couple of slices, cause when you have both lamb and beef sitting next to each other, you bet I’m going to hit the lamb first :)

We also made sure to get our carbs and veggies with this entire cart of food…

Here we’ve got spinach, lotus root and lamb balls. I hardly see lamb balls on many huo guo menus, so this was a must try. So soft with barely any fillers, I admit to cleaning out more than half of this plate on my own. I’m a sucker for meatloaf, meatballs…any kind of grounded up, seasoned, then remolded meat. But I’m not a steak person.

Oyster mushrooms, long noodles, and bean curd skin.

Those are rice cakes and enoki mushroom on either end. The ones in the middle look like tofu, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I bit into fishcake! It was a very pleasant surprise.

We made quite a mess!

Mandarin Chef
516 E Live Oak Ave
Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 445-9354

Little Sheep Café
227 W. Valley Blvd #348
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 457-5599



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