Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late: Mamahuhu
It’s been a banner year for Brandon Jew, who won two James Beard Awards — one for “Best Chef in California” and the second for “Best Restaurant Cookbook” for “Mister Jiu’s Chinatown” (Ten Speed Press, 2021) that he co-authored with San Francisco food writer Tienlon Ho.
Since opening in 2016, his fine-dining Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco’s Chinatown has racked up accolades galore. And his more casual Chinese-American eatery, Mamahuhu, which debuted on Clement Street in January 2020 just before the start of the pandemic, is doing so well that a second outpost is poised to open this year in Noe Valley.
On a recent trek to San Francisco, I made a beeline to try the takeout at Mamahuhu. As you crane your neck to find parking in the Richmond neighborhood, it’s easy to miss the restaurant, as its name is not easily visible in English above the door, but rather in neon-lit Chinese characters. Just look for the storefront’s vivid teal color, though, and you’ll know you’ve found the right place.
The restaurant’s name, which means “so-so” in English, salutes the Chinese-American staple dishes that Jew and so many of us grew up on, but is done here with better ingredients and greater balance.
When it comes to his sweet & sour chicken ($17), which is a house specialty, think of it as the poultry version of sweet & sour pork taken up a notch. Boneless chicken pieces get dredged in rice flour and then fried to a crisp before being wok-tossed with pineapple chunks, red and green bell peppers, honey, and vinegar.
It’s every bit as satisfying as your fave sweet & sour pork, but the chicken is crispier, the sauce not gloppy, and the taste a bit edgier in tang instead of ketchup-y sweet.
The classic mapo tofu with pork ($16) will clear your sinuses. If you have leftovers to enjoy the next day, the heat will have only intensified, too. The soft tofu cubes soak up the robust savory flavors, with ground Niman Ranch pork adding a nice richness. With doubanjiang (spicy bean sauce) and fermented chili, the heat is real. Sichuan peppercorns will give your lips a tingling sensation, too.
The poetically named “Fish Under Water” ($17) brings tender, mild pieces of rock cod gently sauteed with snow peas, English peas, leeks, and crunchy shards of jicama. Salty fermented black beans tie the dish together, adding umami depth.
Anyone who knows me knows I grew up on my mom’s humble yet illustrious tomato beef chow mein, so I had to order the tomato garlic chow mein here ($14). It’s meatless, and redolent of sweet-tangy tomato gravy in every bite. The tangle of chewy, thick noodles hide burst cherry tomatoes, crispy garlic bits, garlic chives, bell peppers, onions, and pieces of fried, chewy tofu.
The Jade fried rice ($10) is speckled green from plenty of chopped kale. Hidden within its depths are also small wild-caught shrimp, and pieces of fluffy egg omelet. There’s Niman Ranch pork strewn throughout, too. But don’t expect it to be in the form of char siu slices. Instead, the pork is minced so finely you might not even see it readily. It’s there more as a condiment, lending added flavor rather than bulk.
All of the food travels fairly well, too, with the exception of the egg rolls ($5), which like any deep-fried food is best consumed right then and there for maximum crispiness.
Pro Tip: Mamahuhu also makes its own line of condiments ($8 per 6-ounce jar) that you can buy to enhance your next stir-fry at home. The CBBG Sauce (Chive Black Bean Garlic), which I bought, is the restaurant’s take on the classic Cantonese ginger-garlic-scallion oil but more assertive with the fermented black beans. It’s plenty garlicky, gingery, and salty. I can’t wait to try it on some wok-tossed shrimp. Just be sure to keep it stored in the refrigerator.