Mala Restaurant, which opened in May, doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page, or even printed takeout menus. But that hasn’t stopped Sichuan fans from finding this sleek new Allston spot serving super-flavorful dishes at affordable prices. Sichuan cooking comprises many distinct flavor combinations; ma refers to the unique numbing properties of the Sichuan peppercorn, while la means heat, usually from the amount of dried red chiles. Mala restaurant lives up to its name, especially when you request dishes extra spicy.
Perhaps the best example of this is in the Mala hot pot, a massive bowl of fire-engine red broth teeming with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and filled with any combination of meat and vegetables. We can order a beef or lamb hot pot ($8.50) or compile our own. We decide on beef, which has tender cuts of braised meat and thin, slippery clear noodles. It’s big enough to share. For a meal that is just as “mala” and even more gigantic, try the fresh whole fish, billed as “Sichuan hot spicy sauce bowl” ($21.95). The name is a mouthful, but sums it up pretty well. The sauce is really broth, similar to the beef hot pot, the fish impressive for tilapia, with head and tail intact and sweet white flesh that soaks up the electric-charged mala flavor. Baby bok choy and more clear noodles, this time thick as pappardelle, round out the meal.
Speaking of noodles, the restaurant offers chile- and cumin-flavored dried lamb hand-pulled noodles ($9.95). The noodles are suspiciously thin and uniform for ones billed as hand-pulled, but the dish is savory and satisfying with stir-fried bell peppers and tender pieces of lamb in brown gravy.
Not everyone craves soupy dishes on a hot day. In that case, try a plate of dry stir-fried chicken with spicy capsicum ($12.95). You might still break a sweat, wrestling crisp, wonderfully salty, spicy fried chicken from the bone, but it’s so worth it, especially washed down with a cold Tsingtao ($3.95).
There is a whole section on the menu of barbecue skewers, which are traditional beer-drinking dishes. The small skewers allow you to taste a variety of meats and vegetables, from cumin-spiced lamb ($1.50) or charred squid ($1.95) to whole sliced eggplant ($4.95). We order a side of rice cake ($1.50) which are perplexing chewy little orbs in a sugary clear glaze. We push aside the sticky foil packet and attempt to make a dent in the feast before us.
Owner Tiffany Huang, who also owns Sushi Express in Brookline, and manager Barbara Wong, are friendly hosts, and run a brisk business. On each visit the sparkling modern dining room is nearly full, mostly with Chinese-American students. Huang tells us a takeout menu will be printed in the next couple of weeks, following a menu change. We hope it’s nothing too drastic. The food, atmosphere, and price are just right as is.
128 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-254-1839. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $1.50-$7.95. Entrees $7.50 -$21.50.
Hours Daily 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Liquor Beer and wine
What to order Mala hot pot, dry stir-fried chicken with spicy capsicum, whole Sichuan fish in spicy sauce, BBQ lamb skewers
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.