It’s been a minute, but we’re bringing back Dish of the Week as restaurants continue to open around the DMV.
I decided to check out Mala Tang in Arlington, Virginia, which is a six-minute walk from the Virginia Square Metro Station, on the Orange Line. Mala Tang’s name means “hot and numbing soup” in Mandarin and the restaurant offers Sichuan-style hot pot dinner.
Post-pandemic, you could order a large pot of a Sichuan peppercorn broth ($8.95) and various “mala bites,” or skewers of raw meats and vegetables like lamb and lotus root that you boil in the soup directly at your table (between $0.65 and $10 per skewer). You can still order the skewers pre-boiled for take-out and delivery, but I find that sitting down with friends for hot pot is better.
Still, Mala Tang offers a variety of tasty Chinese and Cantonese street food snacks that will surely tempt your tastebuds. If you’re looking for dim sum-like appetizers, you might want to try the juicy pork buns ($7.95), or if you want a refreshing starter, check out the cucumber salad ($6.95).
I started with the boiled Zhong’s pork dumplings ($7.95), and they did not disappoint. The pork was juicy and flavorful with a subtle earthy sweetness, and the side of chili vinegar dipping sauce made these dumplings irresistible.
Mala Tang offers several deals if you order for lunch on Monday through Friday between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. The host who handed me my food recommended the mapo tofu with pork combo ($9.95) next time I ordered lunch. All lunch specials include a spring roll and steamed rice.
While the tofu sounded delicious, I couldn’t get the idea of spicy soup out of my head, so I ordered Mala’s braised beef noodle soup ($12.95). The soup and noodles are packaged separately so your food isn’t too soggy by the time you get home.
The soup was bold and hearty, loaded with an umami green onion and chili flavor. The noodles, while themselves a little overcooked, absorbed all the wonderful aromatics from the broth, giving them a distinct taste and texture from your typical carry-out lo mein noodles. A few scattered pieces of bok choy added a wonderful crunch to the entire dish.
The soup is garnished with cilantro. Although I personally cannot stand the herb, I can imagine that it provides a refreshing zing that only compliments the dish.
But it was the chunks of sirloin that made the noodle soup stand out. Marinated in rice wine vinegar, star anise, Sichuan chilis and dark soy sauce, the beef instantly melted in my mouth upon my first bite. Some people may not like the fatty meat, but it only enhanced the steak’s flavor. I was genuinely sad I hadn’t ordered a second bowl to reheat for my lunch the next day.
I particularly enjoy spicy food, but if the heat is too much for you, Mala Tang has plenty of imported drinks to help cool your plate. Besides Wang Lao Ji ($4.00), one of China’s most popular canned iced tea brands, you can also get a 12-ounce bottle of Tsingtao Lager ($4.00) or a 375-milliliter bottle of Sho Chi Ku Bai Nigori sake ($10.00).
I will make sure to recommend Mala Tang to my friends looking for spicy Chinese flavors. Not only are the prices more reasonable compared to D.C. restaurants, but the menu is also extensive and offers dozens of dishes for me to try in the future.