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On the Menu: Mandarin House — many happy returns on La Jolla Boulevard

Here's a sampling of some of the dishes at Mandarin House La Jolla.
(Mandarin House)

Mandarin House, a classic, old-timey Chinese restaurant in La Jolla, is back for dine-in, takeout and delivery both of traditional favorites and new, funky fusion dishes after a hiatus that seemed longer than the Yangtze River.

Nelson Law — the current owner and son of Hong Kong native John “Tat” Law, late co-founder of the original Mandarin House in 1977 — is carrying on the family food business with a side order of fundraising for the upcoming Chinese New Year to honor his father’s memory.

If Nelson Law had cracked open a fortune cookie in 2016, it might have read something like this:

“An ominous future lies ahead with the death of a loved one and business calamities involving a pandemic and fire.”

Law weathered the storm of the death of his father in 2016, a kitchen fire in August 2019 that shut down the business until June 2021 while the kitchen was rebuilt and much of the restaurant was remodeled, and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21. Now he and Mandarin House are re-energized after some cosmetic tweaking (check out the south wall with a life-size color mural of a dragon emerging from the sea), while maintaining its warm, familiar feel for returning customers.

The comfy leather booths, warm woods, white, drapey tablecloths and Imperial-style entrance with lion statues flanking scarlet pillars welcome long-standing customers, seasonal tourists and San Diego denizens from up and down the coast.

Law said he’s grateful for the support of his loyal patrons who “provided the inspiration to continue the legacy of the Mandarin House” and for “the stories and fond memories they shared with us about our restaurant.”

The establishment’s return includes most of the same staff and chefs, as well as the iconic dishes served family-style on white porcelain platters. The egg rolls are still made in-house (along with the dumplings), taking two days to create — making the filling from scratch (a blend of cabbage, celery, ground pork, shrimp and eggs), then painstakingly rolling by hand.

Other faves include Mongolian Beef sautéed with green scallions; lightly breaded Walnut Shrimp with a creamy drizzle of white sauce; Double Happiness (shrimp, sliced chicken breast, snow peas, carrots and bell peppers in ginger and garlic sauce); crispy Upside Down Noodles with beef, chicken, shrimp and vegetables; Salt and Pepper Chicken; Pork Chung King with black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, cabbage and bell peppers); fried rice of all manner; and a slew of vegetarian options (Yu Hsiang Eggplant, Buddha’s Delight, Mu Shu Vegetables and Cashew Tofu).

Law also added some lollapaloozas such as Kung Pao Fries, Beef and Broccoli Fries and “a Chinese take on chili-cheese fries,” along with Mai Taigaritas and traditional mai tais.

Happy hour on Wednesdays through Fridays offers drink specials and appetizer plates.

As the Lunar New Year approaches — beginning Sunday, Jan. 22 — Law is gearing up for his annual fundraiser at the end of February “to honor the legacy of my dad.”

Proceeds from the casino night event are earmarked for cancer research. The festivities will feature a DJ and an auction with items donated by local businesses.

Mandarin House La Jolla

Where: 6765 La Jolla Blvd.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4-8:30 p.m. Sundays. Special closures on Super Bowl Sunday, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Dec. 26.

Information: (858) 454-2555, (858) 454-2007, mandarinhouselj.com

Recipe

Mongolian Beef

Ingredients:

• 240 grams (8½ ounces) thin-sliced flank steak

• 2 tablespoons cornstarch

• 1 tablespoon soybean oil, extra for frying

• 2 beaten eggs

• 1 teaspoon minced garlic

• 120 grams (4 ounces) sliced green onions or scallions

• 200 grams (7 ounces) sliced white or yellow onions

• 1 tablespoon oyster sauce

• 1 teaspoon light soy sauce

• ½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

• Pinch of sugar

Instructions:

• Velvet the beef with eggs, cornstarch and one tablespoon of soybean oil.

• Add beef to a hot wok with oil and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove and set aside.

• In the hot wok, add garlic and sauté green onions with white onions for about 45 seconds.

• Add the beef, oyster sauce, soy sauces and a pinch of sugar.

• Sauté until the onions cook down a bit. It’s important to cook this on high heat to get the flavors of garlic and onion into the beef.

• Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

— Courtesy of Mandarin House