Driving for No Frills Asian Food - NBC Bay Area

Driving for No Frills Asian Food

Bay Area foodie reviews Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant



    Not Getting Enough Sleep? What’s Your Excuse?
    Beef Pancake

    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant is about as straightforward a restaurant name can get. It is indeed old, Mandarin, Islamic and yes, it is a restaurant. I first heard about this curious place a few years ago, and had been meaning to visit since, but it’s out of the way location (San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district) meant that I always put it off. That is until recently, when a friend who was visiting from Switzerland reminded me, and we’d both been wanting to try it out.

    The restaurant is unassuming and deep into the Avenues, but the interior is a whole other story. Arabic script accompanies red Chinese lanterns, and the scents coming from the kitchen smelled more Central Asian than East. My dining companion and I had done our research ahead of time, and we ordered what we’d heard was most popular.

    We started with the beef pancake.

    Put simply, this was amazing. It was a deviation from the usual green onion pancake that you see at many Chinese restaurants, and the layers of dough were oh-so-thin yet pleasantly chewy. I couldn’t tell what this was spiced with, but it was super savory and oniony.

    Next, we had the cumin lamb.

    I admit I was a little weary of this dish since most American lamb has a taste and smell I’m not too crazy about. Not only was this lamb an exception, it was amazing. Listen, I know I already called the beef pancake amazing, but so was this. The cumin packed a punch, and the lamb itself was super tender and seared to perfection. The peppers and water chestnuts added a nice textural contrast.

    Lastly, we shared the green beans with tofu.

    You know when tofu has that perfect, chewy exterior and warm, creamy center? Take that, add loads (and I mean loads) of minced garlic and a handful of crispy green beans, and you have this dish. This might have been a little on the greasy side, but I really didn’t care. It tasted wonderful, and that’s what mattered.

    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant might be out of the way, but it’s absolutely worth the drive. Rarely do I visit a restaurant where every dish is a hit, and even less often do I go somewhere with such a unique niche cuisine. I’m kicking myself for having put off visiting this restaurant for so long, but it’s better late than never, right?

    Mariam Hosseini is a Bay Area native who has been writing about food and travel for six years.  She blogs regularly at yogurtsoda.com.