Restaurant Review #131: Mao's Kitchen, Venice

Peace not war wonton soup

Mao's is an incredibly popular Chinese restaurant. Granted, there aren't many Chinese restaurants in the area, and most of them are bad, but even so, Mao's is very good, and it's healthy, too, with not a trace of MSG.

Late in the day, the sun can really get in your eyes

It took me a while to warm up to Mao's, because my first couple of experiences with them were less than exciting. I tried the Singapore noodles, which were bland. So was a veggie and tofu dish I tried. Everything else I have tried, however, has been very good. If you're used to gooey, sugary sauces and salty, oily soups, Mao's can be a pleasant change of pace. Though Mao's does not surprise my tastebuds with something new and exciting or very intense, their food is healthy, cheap, generously portioned, tasty, and deliverable.

Orange ginger chicken

One of my favorites is the Peace Not War soup, which is a chicken wonton soup in a chicken broth. Many of Mao's dishes have communist-themed names. The soup comes in a huge bowl, making it a great appetizer for two or meal for one. The veggies are fresh and crisp and the wontons are delectable, though the wonton skins are on the thick side.

The orange ginger chicken is neither too orangey nor too gingery and has just the right amount of sauce. In spite of all their healthy propaganda, Mao's serves up a whole plate full of just meat. I know I need my veggies, but as a child I saw veggies as a cheap filler in Chinese dishes, and I have never really been able to change my mind on this point. Another high point is that Mao's uses high quality white meat (high enough quality that I never ran across a chunk of what the heck is that? in my meat).

Mao's also has vegetarian and vegan options--in any dish, you can request vegan broth in your soup and tofu instead of meat or seafood (though I think some dishes have inherent limitations).

I also had a dollar salad, which was the best dollar I have spent in a long time. This salad is a simple bowl of romaine lettuce, shredded carrot, and cucumber in a light, sweet not-too-vineagary vinagrette.

For dessert, there's just one option: the chocolate pineapple. This dish consists of an innovatively sliced half pineapple with a pot of wine-laced chocolate fondue. The fondue was predictably good, and the pineapple fresh and ripe. My favorite part of the dish, however, was the red candied ginger meant to be part of the garnish. Yum.

Mao's doesn't serve any alcohol, but they seem to have an unofficial BYOB policy--bring your own cheap wine and corkscrew, and Mao's will supply tea cups.

The atmosphere is crowded and super-casual: flip flops and t-shirts abound. Wooden tables are tightly packed with happy locals. Some of the tables are long, family-style tables which can leave you dining with strangers at busy times. Even the smaller tables are awfully close together. I'd recommend getting your food delivered or doing takeout unless you like a loud, chaotic atmosphere with poor service.

The service leaves a lot to be desired, as none of the servers seem to care that you're there. Sometimes the food takes forever. On my last visit, I ordered the homemade ginger ale. I sent the first one back because it tasted like Sprite. When I had it remade, it tasted like dirty soda (and upon observation, it was indeed made with Sprite). Definitely skip this drink. While our server did volunteer to re-make the drinks, he didn't really seem to care if we were satisfied with them in the end. I don't like to make a scene, but I was tempted to cross the item out on the final bill and not pay for it. If you've ever had the fresh ginger ale at Gingergrass, you'll know why the stuff they serve at Mao's is such a sin.

Parking is not a joy in this area. I don't have any secret parking tips. There is no parking lot, and street parking is a nightmare. I wish you the best of luck.

If you've been to Mao's Kitchen, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Eat early and get your choice of tables

Maos Kitchen
1512 Pacific Ave
Venice, CA 90291
Sun-Thur 11:30am-10:30pm
Fri, Sat 11:30am-3am
Mao's Kitchen Website (menu available)

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