Boston Eats: Mu Lan Restaurant @ Waltham

For us Asian folks living in Waltham, there is only one Chinese restaurant that is even worth going to – Mu Lan. I can’t express how thankful I am for having a decent and fairly-priced Chinese restaurant just a walk away. I’ve been here maybe 6 times in the almost two years I’ve been here, and it’s just packed with Chinese folks every time. If you’re looking for legit Chinese food, that’s what you’re looking for – waiters/waitresses who speak some sort of Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese/other dialects) and a place that is just loud, rowdy and filled with happy Chinese people stuffing their faces with food. That’s Mu Lan!

I have to mention that they have a back-to-back Chinese menu and an American Chinese menu. Please order from the Chinese menu. Their American-Chinese is just okay, but really, that’s not what you’re here for.

These are pictures and dishes from a few trips, so please don’t think we’re gluttons!

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When they first seat you at a table, you’re given roasted and salted peanuts and a plate of pickles. The pickles are absolutely delicious. There’s cabbage, garlic and sometimes we get a sliver of carrot in there. I don’t like pickles, and Jas goes as far as hating pickles, but we both like these pickles. If only they gave you more than just a dish (yes, they give you one dish no matter the size of the party.)

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海鲜冬瓜汤 Seafood and Wintermelon Soup ($8.95, serves 4): The wintermelon soup is not bad. There’s mushrooms, a ton of ginger, some cured meat, shrimp, clams and a lot of wintermelon cubes. However, I highly doubt it was boiled in a double boiler for 8 hours because I can certainly taste hints of MSG in it. I’m being really picky of course, because when I cook soups, I cook bones in stock overnight, then let it reduce even further. I just love the thick, milky broths and this is just a little light for my taste. Still, other people loved it and I’d totally order it again.

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鲜肉海鲜饺子 Homemade Pork and Seafood Dumplings ($6.95 for 12): There were okay. I’m not a fan of their dumplings because I feel that the skin is a little too thick, and that the fillings are a little too salty for me. If you weren’t that picky, it probably would be very good dumplings! As for the seafood-bit of these dumplings, I couldn’t even tell that there was seafood in there. It just looked like pork and chives.

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台式炒米粉 Taiwanese-style Pan-Fried Rice Noodles with Pork ($7.95): I love this dish and I always come back for more of it. The rice vermicelli they use are the really really thin kinds that resemble the Hakka fried beehoon. If you know me, the thinner the strand of noodle, the better I like it because I feel it has the most surface area in contact with the sauce. Anyway, this dish comes fried with garlic chives, cabbage, dried (and resoaked) shiitake mushrooms, carrots and thinly sliced pork. It’s fried in this delicious soy sauce and I just love it. You know what would be great with this? CURRY! Unfortunately, they don’t sell any curry at Mu Lan.

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木兰鱼片 Mu Lan House Special Fish Filets ($14.95): I love these fish filets! Jas tried it and didn’t really like it, but all the better for me, because I got to eat them by myself and have enough for two more meals! This is somewhat similar to the Szechuan shui zhu yu or water boiled fish, but it is also somewhat different. Instead of the thin broth that’s used in shui zhu yu, the broth is thickened with bean paste and szechuan chili. The fish is also par-fried before getting into the sauce and there’s also a fair amount of fish in there. It’s amazing! This and the vermicelli are probably my two favorites at Mu Lan.

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台式炒面 Taiwanese-style Pan-Fried Noodles with Pork ($7.95): Very similar to the Taiwanese-style Fried Rice Vermicelli (above), except using a different noodle. I like the rice vermicelli more because it’s thinner, but it’s still very good!

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宫保鸡丁 Kung Pao Chicken ($9.95): Probably not my most favorite kung pao chicken around. It tasted like the American-Chinese style of kung pao that was not spicy enough and too sweet! If I had explored the menu better, I would have found that this dish was also in the American-Chinese menu, and I probably wouldn’t have ordered it. So far, the one thing that I didn’t completely enjoy at this restaurant, so it’s still great in my books!

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清炒菠菜 Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables ($8.95): I really like their sauteed seasonal veggies. This is Chinese spinach 菠菜 or puay leng as we call it back at home. They just fry with garlic and a ginger slice, season it with salt and it’s done. So simple, so delicious. Their veggies also always comes out green (and stays green for the next few days too!) I don’t know how they do it, but it makes it a very appealing dish.

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鱼香鸡片 Chicken in Garlic Sauce ($10.95): As written in Chinese in the menu, this is chicken in yuxiang sauce (鱼香鸡片). I don’t know how or why yuxiang sauce translates as garlic sauce because it’s mostly a spicy bean sauce that’s the base. Anyway, I really like this dish. There is an innate delicacy to a dish when everything is sliced so thinly – the chicken, the black fungus and chilies. I’d recommend!

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麻婆豆腐 Mapo Tofu ($9.99) – Not my most favorite dish here. It was spicy, but the tofu was not very flavorful. The sauce tasted like a lesser version of the sauce from the fish fillets. I won’t order this again, especially for this price!

20140629_205631 京都排骨 Pork Chop with Sweet and Sour Sauce – $9.95: Not boneless, but still quite meaty. There was hint of spice, but nothing too spicy or overpowering. I really like the sweet and sour seasoning – it doesn’t taste like the American Chinese type of sweet and sour seasoning probably because the Chinese name for it is 京都排骨 (Jingdu Pork Chops.)

20140629_205641 豆酥豆腐 Tofu with Dried (Crispy) Bean Sauce – $10.95: One of our favorite dishes here. The dried bean sauce is very flavorful, and I am a sucker for crispy beans! It just adds a wonderful texture to the dish, which is so important because tofu is so wiggly and soft. Yummy! Veggies on the sides are a plus too!

20140629_205412 Eggplant with Basil – $9.95: Reminds me of three cup sauce! The sauce was flavorful and a tad sweet, that paired really well with the basil. The eggplant were soft and not too oily. Good dish!

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Stirfry Pea Shoots – $13.95: Delicious tender kai lan! I love it so much, but why is pea sprouts so expensive?

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At Mu Lan, they give you complimentary dessert at the end of a meal. This is a yellow bean and sago dessert. It’s a little sweet, but it’s a nice way to end a meal – especially when it’s complimentary. We’ve gotten other types of sago (watermelon sago, honeydew sago) and also fresh fruits too. That’s the surprise of the meal I guess.

I really like Mu Lan, and while I don’t think it’s the best Chinese restaurant in all of greater Boston, it will still be top 10. It’s got a really relaxed and family-feel, unlike many Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Everyone at Mu Lan seem to be demure and respectful – not the usual rowdy and loud crowd you get at most Chinese restaurants. 

Mu Lan Restaurant
Address: 835 Main Street
Waltham, MA 02451
Hours: T-Th | 11am – 9.30pm
F-Sa | 11am – 10.30pm
Su | 11am – 9.30pm
Price Range: $$ ($10-$20 per person)
Overall: Good!

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