For those who are tired of all of the chains and generic shops and restaurants found in the Boston area and beyond, North Cambridge comes as quite a breath of fresh air. From the bustling Porter Square area north and west to the Arlington border, Massachusetts Avenue is basically one long stretch of ma-and-pa shops and independent restaurants, with chains relatively few and far between (though they are very slowly making their way into the area). And closer to the Arlington line is a blink-and-you-miss-it Chinese restaurant called Qingdao Garden that may not have a whole lot in the way of atmosphere, but it is definitely a can't-miss spot for lovers of dumplings and other Asian food items.
Like so many restaurants and shops in North Cambridge, Qingdao Garden doesn't look like much from the outside, or the inside, for that matter; indeed, it could be mistaken for one of those harshly-lit 2:00-in-the-morning Chinese takeout places that folks often go to after the bars close (though it does look just a bit nicer now that renovations were done to the place awhile back). But it is nothing like this, as the menu includes some pretty exotic Northern Chinese dishes. Some of these dishes aren't for everyone, such as the pig stomach, pig kidney, pig intestine, or pig's feet. But some of the authentic Northern Chinese dishes are probably a bit more appetizing to those who are less adventurous, including Chinese cabbage with garlic sauce, minced potato with hot pepper, pork with cilantro, and baby shrimp with bean curd. Another section of the menu includes interesting house specialties such as squid with chili peppers, lamb with scallions, and a meatball hot pot. Much of the rest of the menu includes more familiar dishes, such as hot and sour soup and wonton soup (the freshly-made wontons are huge, by the way), moo shi, a non-greasy version of lo mein, fried rice, egg foo young, a moderately spicy General Gau's Chicken, Singapore noodles that are also moderately spicy, and a solid version of Pad Thai.
Perhaps the most popular dish at Qingdao Garden, however, (and one of the best dishes in all of Cambridge, in this writer's opinion) is the homemade Chinese dumplings. The ones at Qingdao, which come in 12 pieces (fresh) or 50 pieces (frozen) can be ordered as veggie dumplings (string bean, cabbage, leek, or spinach) or meat/veggie combos (pork or shrimp). All of them are outstanding, with the outside being moist and tender and the inside having a wonderful texture and a savory richness no matter which option is ordered. A lot of dumpling houses have opened up over the past several years in the Boston area, but the dumplings here continue to hold up as some of the best in the entire Boston area.
Qingdao Garden is just one of a number of excellent restaurants along the section of Mass. Ave. that cuts through North Cambridge. This part of the city often gets overlooked (perhaps because it is not on a subway line), but there are some real treasures between Porter Square and the Arlington border, with Qingdao Garden being one that should certainly not be overlooked.
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