Mamahuhu is curiously titled. The name, translated from Chinese, means so-so at best and careless at worst. (“How are you doing today?” “Eh, mamahuhu.”) But it’s the moniker for Brandon Jew’s (of Mister Jiu’s, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Chinatown) latest venture, a Chinese-American takeout joint in the inner Richmond.
There’s definitely nothing careless about each of Mamahuhu’s dishes, and several of them excel more than just so-so too. When Jew named his restaurant, he meant for it to be “a little self-deprecating” amid high expectations. “It’s like you’re doing really good — but keep going,” Jew tells SF Weekly.
“We want to be really serious about the food but we want it to be casual,” Jew says. “We want people to feel like it’s a neighborhood restaurant.” The interior of Mamahuhu is painted or tiled pink, white, and emerald green, and features whimsical horse and tiger illustrations — a nod to Mamahuhu’s name. (“Ma” is taken from the word for horse, “hu” is taken from the word for tiger.) Arched windows give customers a glimpse into the kitchen behind the counter, where customers order their food before finding a place to sit in the small restaurant space, which boasts a surprising amount of first-come, first-serve, tables.
The way to go at Mamahuhu is to order a combo plate ($15) if you’re not eating family style. It features sweet and sour chicken, jasmine rice, wok-cooked vegetables, and you can add upgrades or additional side dishes. Definitely opt for the jade fried rice (an extra $3), a delicious combination of savory bits of Niman Ranch pork and wild shrimp. The supreme broth (an extra $5) is also a good move. It’s rich, but its main flavor is sweetness: chicken bones, ham, cod, ginger, and leeks simmer overnight. The main course in this combo dish is, of course, the sweet and sour chicken, which manages to avoid cloying sweetness with a honey and hawthorn flavored rice-battering. It’s served with charred pineapple and peppers, and ordered as a main dish ($17) at a counter-service restaurant, is a bit pricey.
“If someone thinks it’s expensive, I can’t tell them it’s not,” Jew says. He tried to keep the price points under $20, and justifies their value with the ingredients — Mamahuhu tries to source their vegetables from organic, local farms, and prioritizes high quality meats. It’s a choice that comes across more vividly in some dishes (the sweet and sour chicken’s free-range chicken is delicious) but less so in others. For example, the mushroom mapo tofu ($15) really just tastes like your standard mapo tofu, with a good amount of kick in it. It’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth the somewhat higher price, but if you do opt for this dish, definitely order a bowl of rice to go with it to soak up all the sauce.
Mamahuhu only has one dessert option, but it’s a really good one. The Chop Suey Sundae ($7) is a toasted rice soft-serve made of soy milk, topped with jasmine tea jelly, black sesame sago, and an almond cookie. I’ve always shied away from almond cookies in the past because they tend to be a bit dry, but paired with the lightly sweet soft-serve, it’s perfect texturally. It’s also hard to not love sago and black sesame — putting them together makes for a wonderful, nutty topping. If ice cream isn’t your thing but you still want something sweet, order their snow jasmine tea soda ($5), a fizzy, syrup-sweet drink. Mamahuhu also serves beer and wine. Crowds pending, Jew’s latest restaurant gives Chinese-American takeout the attention and intent it deserves.
Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at email@example.com.