It is sometimes said that if a Chinese restaurant includes Americanized dishes among its more authentic items, it can't be a truly great place. But while restaurants such as Shanghai Gate in Allston can be outstanding to nearly all except for those who want spare ribs and chicken fingers, there are plenty of excellent spots that have both authentic Chinese items and the more familiar Chinese-American dishes. One such example is Qingdao Garden in North Cambridge, while another is the focus of this review, namely a comfortable old eatery on the other side of Cambridge (in Central Square) called Mary Chung.
Mary Chung doesn't exactly stand out from the many other businesses that line both sides of Mass. Ave. in Central Square, and it doesn't really look like anything particularly special inside, either. Its long, narrow dining area is laid out in a pretty simple fashion, consisting of red vinyl booths along the left and right walls, with a few tables and chairs running down the middle of the place. A mirror along the left wall helps make the restaurant appear slightly bigger than it really is, while carpeting helps keep the noise level down just a bit. The overall feel of Mary Chung is a place that is well-worn and maybe just a little tacky (red vinyl booths will do that to a place), yet oddly appealing, especially for those who like eateries that have a retro feel and a complete lack of pretension.
Much of the menu at Mary Chung centers around Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine, along with the aforementioned Americanized Chinese dishes that can be found at so many restaurants. Indeed, the menu includes everything from crab rangoon and chicken fingers to beef teriyaki and egg rolls in this latter category, as well as General Gau's chicken, moo shi pork, Singapore noodles, sesame lemon chicken, and beef fried rice. But Mary Chung also features some "less" Americanized dishes that are quite wonderful, including freshly-made steamed pork and chive dumplings that are tender and full of nicely-textured meat; a taro dumpling soup that is only available every now and then; dense and hearty lion's head meatballs that are made with pork and have a delightfully complex taste thanks to ginger, soy sauce, and various herbs; stir-fried dun dun noodles with shredded chicken and a sweet and slightly spicy peanut sauce; spicy baby eggplant that has a noticeable garlic and ginger flavor; yu hsiang shredded pork, which is also heavy on the garlic and ginger, though the sauce is not heavy and "gloppy" like it can be at some Chinese restaurants; and a savory dish of beef and black mushrooms with bamboo shoots. For those of you who enjoy an alcoholic beverage with your Chinese food, a limited number of beer and wine options are available at Mary Chung, including Tsingtao beer. By the way, for those who wish to delve a bit more deeply into authentic Chinese cuisine, the restaurant offers dim sum on Saturdays and Sundays, with such items as sweet soybean pudding, pig feet soup noodles, Taiwan-style fried noodles, sweet sesame rice balls, and steamed bun with sweet bean available.
Mary Chung is an excellent option for groups with diverse tastes, as its menu runs the gamut from the most Americanized of Chinese-American fare to truly authentic Szechuan and Mandarin items. It may look like any number of Chinese restaurants from the outside (and from the inside), but this laid-back place on the eastern edge of Central Square is a big step above your basic Boston-area Chinese eateries.
Copyright © 2012-2017, Boston's Hidden Restaurants (www.hiddenboston.com).