Beneath an illuminated, white and green sign in English and Chinese, lives a tiny restaurant with a big reputation - Mary Chung. When I first moved to Inman Square in Cambridge in the spring of 2006 my mother insisted that I make my way to Mary Chung. She said, and this is a direct quote, "It is the absolute best Chinese food." Well, if that isn't definitive, I don't know what is.
Finally, four years later, I made my way to Mary Chung. When we opened the front door we couldn't even see inside because the line was so long it was out the door. The hostess gave us a number and told us to pay attention for it to be called. As people were seated, we made our way inside and all we could see was one gorgeous looking plate after another being delivered to each table.
Inside the restaurant has booths along both walls and tables down the center aisle. This is the definition of no frills decor.
We combed the menu for about 15 minutes while we sipped hot tea. I was also distracted and amused by the placemats with the Chinese signs of the zodiac. I don't know why, but I have always loved reading them.
We decided to start with the scallion pancake (my personal favorite) and the spicy beef dumplings. Though the scallion pancake was a smaller portion size than I've received in other Chinese restaurants, it was delicious. It had a very crispy outside and an almost undercooked center (in a good way). Almost like eating a chocolate chip cookie right when it comes out of the oven.
I'm told the spicy beef dumplings were excellent, but incredibly hot.
For dinner I ordered the tofu and broccoli. This is my standard Chinese favorite, but I am used to it having a bit more kick. The broccoli was fresh and just the right amount of tender and the tofu was silky and well seasoned. The best tofu and broccoli is at the Mandarin Gourmet in Chestnut Hill, but this was a worthy competitor.
My dinner date ordered the spicy chicken with pea pods, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. I tried one pea pod and my mouth was on fire. He said his mouth was already numb for the spicy beef dumplings, so he couldn't really feel if this was any spicier. Let me tell you, it was.
While we were eating we saw the dinner special go by - a whole fish. Though you might assume that sounds disgusting to a vegetarian, I must admit, it looked and smelled amazing. Every plate we watched go by looked fantastic. I completely understand why Mary Chung has such a loyal following.
If you love Chinese, this is absolutely worth a trip. As a warning, the restaurant is cash only.
You can find Mary Chung at 646 Massachusetts Ave in Central Square.