Shangri-La (Belmont, MA)

Last year my coworker introduced me to Sofra in Cambridge, and we’ve been back to that part of Cambridge several times, and also started exploring the rest of that neighborhood (West Cambridge/Belmont). Looking around, there are actually some pretty neat places around there, such as Eastern Lamejun Bakers (which came highly recommended by an Armenian friend of mine), a few good wine stores, and some rather nice vintage stores. We also found ourselves walking by Shangri-La Chinese Cuisine, and became intrigued due to the large number of Chinese people waiting around outside for a table. So we put on our list to check out, and after this weekend’s hiking trip in Boston, it seemed like a good place to grab dinner.

I’ll be honest, in that Shangri-La, to outside appearances, is the sort of Chinese place that I’d usually wouldn’t show up on my radar: the Northeast is chock-a-block with all sorts of heavily-Americanized Chinese places, and the name Shangri-La reminds me of entirely too many tacky “Chinese” places that I went in the 70s, dishing out chop suey and sweet and sour chicken. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do like the occasional General Tso’s chicken or egg rolls, for example, but usually I find myself craving some more adventuresome and flavorful Chinese food.

And Shangri-La did quite well on that front. After getting seated (we arrived at 8:30pm, and the place was still busy and crammed), as I was looking over the menu, I was immediately greeted with a nice selection of Taiwanese and Szechuan dishes, hot pots, and noodle dishes. Particularly, I was quickly drawn to one of my favorite Chinese menu items: pork belly with preserved vegetables (mustard greens, in this case). And when it arrived from the kitchen, I was quite happy with the result: A generous plate piled up with a big mound of preserved mustard greens topped with several slabs of tender, marinated, but still slightly crispy pork belly. The result had all the flavors and textures I like: a nice saltiness to the greens, a good marinated pork with tender fat that wasn’t really greasy, and just enough crisp texture to the pork skin. I’d get this again in an instant.

Carol opted for one of the hot pots (beef and turnip), and was rewarded with a rich and flavorful stew of large, tender and spicy beef chunks, nicely simmered turnip, and a rich broth full of pepper, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger notes. I’m not usually a fan of turnip, but it worked well here, nicely softened by the cooking but still having some tooth, absorbing much of the flavor of the rich broth, but still having a distinct turnip taste as well. Also a particularly good entree.

And deciding that we wanted to have some more green vegetables, we went for another personal favorite, Chinese Broccoli (gai lan). I almost always enjoy this at Chinese places (and curse my local groceries in NH for not carrying it), but often the result of ordering it is a large plate of it swimming in oyster sauce. Here, it was stir-fried in a light-and-not-greasy oil just to the point of being al-dente, with just a bit of garlic to give it some more flavor. The result was a pleasant side dish of greens.

So, Shangri-La is one of those places that at first glance I might not have been interested in, but when I ended up stopping in, I’m saddened I didn’t know about this place sooner. It’s a nice little Chinese/Taiwanese/Szechuan restaurant with a nice menu and good food. I’ll definitely be back.

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