In the Chinese community, word of mouth is potent, and if a new delicious and authentic Chinese restaurant enters the scene, EVERYBODY knows about it immediately. Good Chinese restaurants never need to advertise because word travels like wildfire. Lines are predictably long, yet people are willing to wait.
Shangri La in Belmont is definitely one of those restaurants. Unlike most of the restaurants in Chinatown (which are more Cantonese-style), Shangri La specializes in Sichuan and Taiwanese cuisine. Their special weekend Taiwanese brunch is especially good.
Come any Saturday around lunchtime, and be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes for a table, if not more. The place is teeming with Asians. The food is excellent here, and everybody knows it.
We went on a Saturday around 12:30 and had to wait about 25 minutes before being seated. The restaurant is super crowded, and it's hard to wait inside the restaurant. There just is not enough room to accommodate all the people waiting. We eventually walked to the Middle Eastern store next door and bought some snacks to kill time (and the hunger pangs!).
It was worth the wait. The weekend brunch menu is fabulous. Almost all of the dishes are generally excellent, with several outstanding dishes and just a few mediocre ones. Here's what we got and our thoughts . . . .
Salty Soy bean milk (咸豆浆) unsweetened soy bean milk is "curdled" with the addition of vinegar, giving this soup the consistency of really soft tofu. Chopped up fried crullers and pickled vegetables are then added to the mix, making this taste like a salty soybean soup. It was OK here, but definitely not as good as the one at Mary Chung in Cambridge.
Fried Cruller (油條) A Taiwanese breakfast classic, this was good. Typically you dip this into the sweet soy bean milk (甜豆花), which we also ordered.
Scallion Pancake 蔥油餅 ($4.25): These were fried to a nice, crispy consistency, and we not too greasy, which was nice. Solid, definitely solid.
Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉麪) This was AMAZING!!! One of the best beef noodle soups I've ever had in Boston. The soup had a rich, beef flavor that was just spicy enough to have a slight kick. The beef was soft and tender, as if it had been stewed for a long time. Bryan said he preferred the one at Mary Chung (which is excellent!) because it is spicier. Although I love the one at Mary Chung, I liked how the spice in this dish did not overpower it, but instead added a subtle kick that was just perfect. If only they had fresh handmade noodles. Everyone agreed at the table that this dish was one of the best out of the ones we ordered. If you come here, definitely try this!
Taiwanese Stir Fried Vermicelli 炒米粉 ($6.95): This dish was fine, though nothing extraordinary. The best fried vermicelli I've had in Boston is from Chung Shin Yuan in Newton.
Cattle Tendon ($6.95): I LOVE LOVE LOVE this dish and can never stop eating it whenever I order this dish. I swear there's some salty addictive agent in it (heh heh, maybe MSG) that just keeps making me come back for more. The tendon has the perfect chewy texture and a great spicy aroma that comes from the tendon being tossed in a mixture of sesame-oil and chile oil. Another one of my favorites here.
Beef wrapped with Sesame Pancake (牛肉夾餅) This was excellent (sorry you can't see the beef in the picture). The sesame pancake was flaky and crispy; the beef inside had great flavor. The scallions gave a nice, sharp contrast to the heavier, meaty flavors.
Pork Belly and Pickled Mustard Greens Bun (刮包)
This is another MUST GET dish. I bet David Chang's signature Momofuku Pork Belly buns are inspired from this traditional Taiwanese dish. Pork belly and pickled mustard greens are topped with sweet ground peanuts and cilantro in a steamed bun. The resultant flavor combination of the rich pork belly, the salty pickled mustard greens, the sweet crunchy peanuts, and the crisp cilantro and incredible. Really delicious. Definitely a must-try.
Pan fried Rice Cakes 炒年糕 ($6.95. This was the only dish that I found to be VERY mediocre and not worth ordering again. The rice cakes were doused in this generic brown sauce, and this dish was more reminiscent of Americanized Chinese food than an authentic pan-fried rice cake dish, which, frankly, needs more oil and less goopy sauce.
Nevertheless, despite this one pitfall, the rest of our dishes were either very solid or absolutely delicious. This is definitely one of the best restaurants for Taiwanese dim sum in Boston, and it's easy to see why people are willing to line up.
In conclusion, if you go, you should definitely try the beef noodle soup, the beef wrapped with sesame pancake, and the pork belly buns. If you are willing to try tendon, then you should really get the cattle tendon as well. If you've never had dim sum, the sweet soy milk and the fried cruller are worth getting, just because they are such a classic part of the Taiwanese breakfast experience. Oh, so are scallion pancakes!
Note: several of the menu items described above are only available on weekends during their special weekend brunch. Their normal dinner menus is still excellent, but you will not be able to order all of the Taiwanese dim sum dishes.
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