Forget what you know about Mongolian restaurants. The choose-your-own-ingredient places cooking stir-fry noodle dishes in oversized woks across L.A. are actually a Taiwanese invention. But with chef Ganbat Damba's Golden Mongolian Restaurant, Angelenos have an opportunity to experience true Mongolian cuisine.
Damba was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital. His restaurant, right down Wilshire Boulevard from Southwestern Law School, is graced with framed photos of his homeland on purple walls and shelves of memorabilia including tiny models of morin khuur, the two-stringed bowed instrument, and figurines of Mongolians in native dress. A map of the Mongol Empire hangs behind the register. The only out-of-place decoration is a painting of Audrey Hepburn that hangs in the restroom. Maybe she was a fan of khorkhog?
Khorkhog ($35 for 2 people), pronounced “har-hook,” is composed of tender hacks of bone-in lamb breast, potato and carrots, all of which are draped with dough and cooked with a pair of hot stones in a stone pot. A bit of lamb broth pools at the base of the pot and thickens thanks to the potato’s starch. Golden Mongolian’s signature dish comes with what amounts to a Mongolian take on Korean banchan: kimchi, crunchy slaw folded with mayo and garnished with cherry tomatoes, and niislel, a mayo-based Mongolian potato salad.
My server, who is also of Mongolian descent, instructed us to reach into the pot, retrieve the stones and wipe them down. Passing the hot stones between your palms is supposed to increase blood circulation.
Unlike most Mongolian places in town, Golden Mongolian makes their own noodles in-house, by hand, which serve as the foundation for soups and stir-fries. Tsuivan ($8.95) features flat, irregularly shaped noodles tossed with strands of beef, peppers and little more. The dish is rustic and simple, but comforting.
Dumplings form their own menu category at Golden Mongolian. Buuz ($5.50) — steamed beef dumplings with meatball-like cores — have thick skins and tiny holes up top to let off steam. A sextet arrives in a stainless steel steamer with a dish of creamy cole slaw in the middle. Khuushuur ($5.95) resemble empanadas, but are actually a trio of pan-fried Mongolian flat dumplings filled with minced beef and onion and served with tangy julienne carrot and cabbage.
If you’re interested in sampling authentic Mongolian cuisine, Golden Mongolian is a great place to start.
Golden Mongolian Restaurant, 3012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angels, 90010; open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; (213) 263-2141