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Mandarin House serves up great food, service

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

For those looking for a Chinese meal that’s a cut above typical take-out, Mandarin House is South Bend’s best bet. With excellent dishes served at reasonable prices, the restaurant overcomes its basic shortcomings, making it a popular choice among locals and Notre Dame students alike.

The food is reasonably priced – most meals cost between $10 and $15. The fare consists of traditional Chinese restaurant dishes, like chicken, pork, beef and seafood, with a few “chef’s specialties” thrown in, though there’s nothing out of the ordinary on the menu.

In actuality, however, the simplicity of the menu is a strength rather than a weakness, as it guides diners to the more popular dishes, which are also coincidentally the restaurant’s best. There is an assortment of teas, soups and appetizers, though a full meal can add several dollars to the overall cost. For those on a budget, a single dish is likely enough.

Portion sizes are adequate, though they could be bigger. They’re filling enough, though they do seem a bit smaller than what might be served at other Chinese restaurants. The main course comes on its own plate, with white rice served in a separate dish (one per table). The amount of food is roughly comparable to the amount from regular Chinese take-out and many dishes are served with vegetables or other sides.

The décor isn’t anything special, though the fish tank near the door is a nice touch. In fact, aside from some decorations hanging on the wall, there isn’t much to distinguish Mandarin House as a Chinese restaurant – even the exterior is unassuming, with only a sign indicating the type of food served.

The dining area is essentially one large room with tables scattered throughout. There are no booths and many of the tables are removed from the walls – a possible problem for families or larger groups.

The real draw, however, is the quality of the food – this is where Mandarin House sets itself apart. Heads and shoulders better than typical Chinese take-out, the restaurant serves excellent chicken, beef and seafood.

The chicken dishes, especially the empress chicken and sesame chicken, are outstanding. Since most of the dishes are comparably priced to take-out, the excellent food is enough to recommend Mandarin House.

Service was extremely prompt, though that same over-attentiveness made the meal feel a bit rushed. The food is served almost instantly, which really increases the pace of the whole experience (though serving soups and teas slows it down a bit). The waiting staff, though friendly, also moves things along quickly, which might be problematic for some diners who like to enjoy their meal leisurely.

Overall, Mandarin House doesn’t seem to have a lot going for it other than the quality of the food – but that alone is enough to recommend it.

It’s not an amazing dining experience and the decor and atmosphere is middling, but the service is prompt and attentive and the dishes are delicious, and really, those are the two essentials. For those who have the time and mind to sit down and take in an excellent Chinese meal, Mandarin House is the way to go in South Bend.