Mandarin King’s longstanding traditions of friendly service and healthy versions of family recipes offer Laguna a better way to enjoy Chinese cuisine.
By Bria Balliet | Photos by Jody Tiongco
It’s funny that in a world with low-carb pizzas and sugar-free cookies, there are so few health-conscious substitutes for the often greasy and MSG-laden American-Chinese food. Lagunans need not worry, however, as one of the few eateries offering a fresh approach to this type of cuisine is right in our neighborhood.
Boasting authentic recipes from owner Glenn Fu’s mother, Mandarin King has served locals its family-style dishes from the same north Laguna location for more than three decades. In fact, February marks the eatery’s 31st year in business. While it wasn’t always the focus, the restaurant spent the past five to 10 years tweaking the menu to appease the more health-minded diners of our seaside enclave. Prepared to order, dishes are not only made with less salt and sugar than their predecessors, but can be tailored to accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions—such as gluten-free and vegan needs—that many other Chinese restaurants cannot.
The sizzling rice soup is a prime example of the lighter fare that can be found at Mandarin King. Its savory, clear broth is chock-full of rice (you can actually hear it hissing when the broth is added tableside), white meat chicken, shrimp and vegetables such as zucchini, carrots and peas. It’s an ideal starter when shared, but could easily be an entree for individual diners. The cream cheese wontons are another delicious way to begin the meal. While they aren’t known for their lack of calories, Mandarin King’s are made fresh, with a delightfully crispy shell and slightly sweet filling.
Perfect for sharing, the Mongolian beef entree arrives sauteed with freshly chopped white and green onions, whose bite is complemented by the sweet glaze that tops the dish. Similarly, the simply prepared house special chicken is lightly caramelized and topped with minced green onions—an option that’s always popular with children. In fact, in an effort to connect with the community, the Fu family caters lunch at El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools every Tuesday, and the house special chicken is always on the menu.
Those who are craving something a bit heavier—we do have cheat meals, after all—will be pleased with the honey walnut shrimp. Breaded shrimp cooked in canola oil is tossed with walnuts in a sweet honey glaze to create a hearty dinner dish that could almost double as dessert. The made-to-order aspect is evident in the crispy shrimp.
When bellies are full and it comes time to head home, don’t forget to open your fortune cookie for a sweet end to the meal. We imagine that it will foretell many delicious feasts in your future.
Tip: It’s customary in China to drink hot tea, often a jasmine variety, with meals. It is also rumored to help aid in digestion, so have a pot with lunch or dinner for a more authentic cultural experience.
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 3-9:30 p.m.
1223 N. Coast Hwy.; 949-494-8992; mandarinkinglaguna.com