Chinese Cuisine

Q & A With John Huang of Mao's Restaurant: Hunan Cuisine, Electrical Engineering, Fish Heads + The Expansion of Chinese Food In L.A.

Comments (0)


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Mao-style braised pork - JOHN HUANG
  • John Huang
  • Mao-style braised pork
John Huang is the owner and manager of newly-opened Mao's Restaurant. Named after Chairman Mao Zedong -- who, yes, Huang holds in high-esteem -- the eatery boasts a variety of spicy dishes that pay homage to Mao's hometown in the province of Hunan.

Mao's Restaurant opened in early October after Huang's lease expired on his old restaurant, Hunan Seafood Restaurant (Note: Hunan Seafood is still open, but is managed by a completely different staff and cooking team.)

A Hunan-native and a San Gabriel Valley restaurateur for over a decade, Huang's goal is to spread Hunan cuisine all throughout Los Angeles. We sat down with him to talk about Hunan cuisine and spread of "authentic" Chinese food in Los Angeles.

Squid Ink: How did you get started in the restaurant industry here?

John Huang: I opened my first restaurant in 2005 on San Gabriel Blvd. It was called Grand Cafe. The store was pretty small, and I wasn't sure if Hunan cuisine would be able to make it into this market. By nature of the cuisine, the food is really spicy and sour. We only had nine tables and it was just really difficult.

click to enlarge John Huang - CLARISSA WEI
  • Clarissa Wei
  • John Huang
SI: Hunan cuisine is spicy -- and so is Sichuan food. What's the difference between these two regional cooking styles?

JH: Hunan food is very spicy, but that spice level can be adjusted. There aren't any tongue-numbing ingredients in Hunan cuisine either. Sichuan food is both tongue-numbing and spicy because of the incorporation of peppercorns. The way we cook food in Hunan-style cuisines also tends to accentuate the flavor of the dishes. There's a lot of vegetables used and the spice doesn't drown the flavor -- it accentuates it.

SI: Would you say that the majority of your dishes are recipes directly from Hunan, or do you have a wide variety of different dishes from all over China?

JH: We have a section of our menu dedicated completely to Hunan-specific dishes. The rest are general dishes, but we cook them using Hunan-cooking techniques.

click to enlarge Lotus root with beef - JOHN HUANG
  • John Huang
  • Lotus root with beef

SI: How did you get started in the restaurant industry?

JH: It was a combination of interest and love for food -- I actually studied electrical engineering.

SI: Where did the recipes come from?

Related Location

Related Content

Now Trending


  • Daw Yee: Mission of Burma
    L.A. has a very small pool of Burmese restaurants; among them, Daw Yee does not boast the most extensive menu. Nonetheless, Daw Yee, in Monterey Park, is fascinating for one big reason — namely, that it gives L.A. something unusual: a Burmese restaurant that caters to younger diners.
  • The Year in L.A. Food (So Far)
    We've got so many restaurants, you could eat at a different joint every day of the year -- and probably the rest of your life -- and never go to the same place twice. It would be impossible (both physically and financially) to try them all, but luckily, you have us. Check out The Year in L.A. Food (So Far).
  • Ladies Gunboat Society at Flores
    At Ladies Gunboat Society, the new operation out of the restaurant that used to be Flores on Sawtelle Boulevard, the Hoppin’ John is served as an appetizer or a small plate rather than a side, and the price is the stuff of comedy.