Calling adventurous diners who live inside the loop. The wait is over. Mala Sichuan has opened in Montrose.
As CultureMap reported in January, Mala, widely considered to be the best restaurant in the sprawling Bellaire Asiatown district for its combination of rigorously authentic flavors and Western-style service, has taken over the former Mo Mong's/Dua location on Westheimer next to El Real Tex-Mex Cafe.
At the time, owner Cori Xiong expected to be open by the end of February, but delays seem to be inevitable when it comes to opening a restaurant. The restaurant began a very quiet soft opening on Tuesday.
After a lunch with friends that included sampling favorite dishes from the Bellaire menu and some new additions, I can confidently report that the food matches, or possibly even exceeds, the first location in terms of quality.
Changes to the space consist of new furniture, lighting and a new mural on the two-story wall adjacent to the entrance. As at the original location on Bellaire, the look has a clean, functional, Ikea-style aesthetic. But really, no one is coming to Mala expecting a stylish dining room. People are coming for the cuisine that's unlike any other restaurant in Houston.
Ever since Mala announced the second location, some have expressed concern that the Montrose location might be a watered-down version of the original. After a lunch with friends that included sampling favorite dishes from the Bellaire menu and some new additions, I can confidently report that the food matches, or possibly even exceeds, the first location in terms of quality.
Of the new additions to the menu, the most notable are dishes that utilize green Sichuan peppercorns. Sourced by Mala directly from China, the green peppercorns provide an even more intense tingling sensation than the familiar red peppercorns. We split an order of green peppercorn beef that had our group of experienced Mala veterans completely addicted to the intense sensation and startling depth of flavor. Dry pot prawns, another new addition, also delivered as a valuable new addition.
Some of the Mala classics we tried included red oil dumplings, funky stick chicken and water-boiled fish. All of these met or exceeded our expectations compared to the Bellaire location. Prices are similar, too; six of us feasted for $100 plus tip.
The only downside is that the restaurant has yet to receive its liquor license. When it does, expect an updated version of the original's well-curated wine and beer selection.
Montrose is already home to many of Houston's best restaurants, and, with every new opening, it seems almost impossible to imagine what else will come next. Even the neighborhood's lack of barbecue looks to be coming to an end soon with pitmaster John Avila's announcement of his plans to open on Richmond.
Yet, there's no doubt that Mala Sichuan's arrival is an important new addition that will both please fans of the original location and attract new diners. Just bring a little patience. The staff may not be ready for the frenzy, but it's coming.