Zhang Mama is a Beijing legend and I wanted to find out why. I’ll admit I can be skeptical when it comes to Chinese restaurants. All too often I hear people get excited about a restaurant that is simply not bad. And when I say not bad I mean not actively bad. I find that that there are only a handful of trusted restaurants that I would ever consider taking out of town guests to, because most places are just not up to scratch.
With that in mind, I approached Zhang Mama 张妈妈特色川味馆 hesitantly both because I thought it might be over-hyped and also the idea of waiting outside in the cold for an indefinite amount of time sounded unbearably frustrating. But I’m a sucker for peer pressure and there were more than several trusted foodies raving about the place. With a newly updated Restaurant Hit List for 2016 and Zhang Mama right at the top, it was time. …and the promise of a pre-dinner wine guzzle to warm us up for the cold wait, I was inevitably coaxed into going. It was worth it. And now I’m kicking myself for not getting myself here sooner.
So a few things about the place: first up, there are 2 locations. The original on Fensiting Hutong (across from Rager Pie), where you are almost guaranteed not to get a table, and the new location on Jiaodaokou (across from Katchup), where you might be able to. They don’t take reservations so plan accordingly.
Inside and outside it is unremarkable and could pass for any hole-in-the-wall local restaurant. At least with the newer and bigger branch, we were able to stand inside while we waited for a table to clear upstairs. Completely in the way, the servers just bumped and shoved their way through us as they walked in and out of the kitchen like it was the norm. It was clear that this place is used to waiting crowds of people.
Order after order of that Signature Zhang Mama Xiao Chao 张妈妈小炒
Peek into their closet of a kitchen with 10+ cooks! Crazy!
Slightly relieved we didn’t have to sit in the crowded benches downstairs, we got a bigger square table upstairs where we were able to pile up our winter coats into a corner of the room.
*WARNING: The menus are all in Chinese with no pictures and you have to write your own order down. A challenge for many of us so come prepared with either a friend to help you order and write in Chinese or time to brush up on those Chinese lessons!
We nominated Ben to take on the task of ordering
Zhang Mama has the best Hui Guo Rou 回锅肉 I have ever had. Other rave about the Boboji 钵钵鸡, but that was pretty intensely spicy – especially as a starter. With the Boboji as the exception, the rest of our dishes were actually a tolerable spice level. For the record, I’m pretty useless when it comes to spice levels. We did ask for them to tone down the spice, but if you want to blow your head off with dishes that are hot as hell, that can also be arranged.
Honestly though, even for out of towners who aren’t used to spicy foods, I think Zhang Mama is still a place to take them because the food is fantastic and there are plenty of dishes that aren’t intimidatingly spicy.
We had a wide variety of dishes and each one of them was excellent. I have been assured that the whole menu is just as good. The Hui Guo Rou and Zhang Mama Xiao Chao are the highlight though. Make sure you get these if you go!
Zhang Mama’s Sichuan Dishes:
Boboji Soup 钵钵鸡汤料 (RMB 5) + RMB 1 per veggie skewer
Bring on the Spice with Boboji
There She Is – Lian Shan Hui Guo Rou 连山回锅肉 (RMB 28)
Gong Bao Ji Ding 宫保鸡丁 (RMB 15)
Yu Xiang Qie Zi 鱼香茄子 (RMB 12)
Zhang Mama Xiao Chao 张妈妈小炒 (RMB 20)
Suan Rong La Rou 蒜蓉腊肉 (RMB 20)
Tu Dou Rou Si 土豆肉丝 (RMB 15)
Dan Dan Mian 担担面 (RMB 8)
Suan Rong Xi Lan Hua 蒜蓉西兰花 (RMB 12)
Devilishly Delicious Zhong Shui Jiao 钟水饺 (RMB 8)
Bing Fen 冰粉 (RMB 5) – Cool Jelly Dessert to Extinguish that Mouth of Fire
After that Sichuan feast, the total bill came out to be RMB 270 between the 7 of us = RMB 38.5 per person. Bonkers. It’s been a long time since I’ve left a local Chinese restaurant so satisfied and for so, so cheap.
So now that I’ve successfully convinced you through amazing food photography to get your butt over to Zhang Mama, here are some important tips to consider before you go:
1. Go at an odd time. We went at 21:00 and still had to wait 10 minutes for a table, but apparently this isn’t bad. They close at 23:00 FYI.
2. Take someone who speaks and can write in Chinese
3. Don’t expect the service to do much for you. Go get your own beers, or better yet, bring some alcohol with you. We did and no one bat an eye.
4. Prep the wet wipes for the morning after. (sorry for the imagery!)
Zhang Mama Contact Details:
- Address: 76 Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie, Dongcheng district
- Tel: 188 1119 5778
- Open Daily: 10:30AM-11PM
Original Zhang Mama Branch:
- Address: Across from Rager Pie – 4 Fensiting Hutong, Dongcheng district
- Open Daily: 10AM-11PM
- Reservations: Wait your turn in line like everyone else!
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.