More than fried rice
Mandarin Taste brings authentic flavors and ingredients to Tulsa’s Chinese food scene.
Steamed Garlic Shrimp
When Sally Yau came to Tulsa from Beijing, she expected to say goodbye to Chinese food.
She was happy to find Chinese restaurants when she arrived. That is, until she actually ordered the food.
Sweet and sour chicken in pink, gooey sauce? It wasn’t the food she grew up eating in Beijing. These were Chinese restaurants without Chinese food.
“Real Chinese food is more than fried rice and lo mein noodles,” she says.
And so, her restaurant, Mandarin Taste, is much more than fried rice. It’s one of the reasons the restaurant is filled with Chinese students, Chinese families who have moved to the states and world travelers who appreciate authenticity.
But Yau is convinced that all the American customers need for conversion is a guide. And she’s the one who will take you by the hand, leading you to something familiar yet distinctly Chinese, like Cumin Beef with bits of crunchy peppercorn laced through the dish. Or, for the more daring, Burning Pig Intestines — a fiery dish popular with Chinese students.
I met Yau on my first visit to Mandarin Taste. Nearly everyone who has been to Mandarin Taste has met Yau.
“I recognize who is a first-time customer and who is not,” she says. “We are a small restaurant, and I’m here all the time. I try to help them out. I try to find something they will like.”
I came with a friend who was already a fan of Mandarin Taste. Yau had recommendations for us before we had a chance to check out the menu.
And that’s a good tip to remember: Ask Yau if there’s anything new or special worth trying.
Yau suggested Cilantro Beef ($12.95), a dish not on the menu. Strips of beef were cooked in a rich brown sauce with soy sauce, garlic and a little ginger. Cilantro stems and leaves covered the beef, giving each bite a fresh and aromatic taste.
One of the best foods I tasted was Sour and Spicy Cucumbers ($5.95), a cold appetizer we ate from the beginning to end of our meal. Fans of pickled summertime vegetables will love these vinegary cucumbers dotted with spicy red chilis.
Before I visited Mandarin Taste, I texted my cousin, a consummate foodie. I asked him what I should order.
“Get the dumplings. The dumplings at MT are the best,” he says.
He was right. Yau’s dumplings are handmade, unlike the uniform, dry and pasty versions many of us have experienced at some point. These dumplings gently pillow around fillings including shrimp, beef, pork, spinach and leeks. They’re best eaten in one bite — with a dunk into the black vinegar and soy sauce.
Steamed rice is served with most entrees, and Yau does have her version of fried rice on the menu. Her Pineapple Fried Rice ($9.95) has shrimp, egg, onions, carrots, peas, bean sprouts and, of course, pineapple. Another tasty rice dish is the Shredded Pork with Sweet and Spicy Sauce ($7.95).
Only her Chinese customers — and a few American customers with adventurous palates — order the organ meats. But they’re there — everything from liver to spicy pig’s brains — if you’re so inclined.
“Sometimes I tell customers, ‘Just forget about the name and eat it.’ It sounds weird but tastes very good. It’s just part of a pig,” Yau says.
The night I visited Mandarin Taste, a few diners were having Chinese hot pot. Metal pots filled with broth are brought to the tables where you can cook beef, pork, tofu or vegetables to your liking.
“It’s Chinese fondue,” Yau says. “We’re hoping to introduce it to more people this fall.”
Mandarin Taste specializes in Szechuan-style Chinese food. Yau said her favorite foods to cook are the foods she grew up eating, which are mostly bold and spicy Szechuan.
Yau said it was her stubbornness that led to her opening the restaurant in 2013. Bad Chinese food during her years as a student at the University of Tulsa was one thing, but once she and her husband decided to stay in Tulsa, raising their two daughters here, she was ready to show her new city what real Chinese food was all about.
6125 S. Sheridan Road, Suite K, 918-878-7998
Hours: 5-9 p.m., Monday-Tuesday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday.