BY EUGENE MAR
True aficionados of authentic Chinese cuisine know how difficult a struggle it is to find respectable Chinese food in Cambridge or Somerville. Enter Qingdao Garden, a pleasant surprise found at the end of 77 bus line in north Cambridge that offers a mix of dishes that appeal to people of all different palates at affordable prices.
Qingdao offers the usual assortment of American favorites, ranging from General Gau’s chicken to lobster sauce and pork fried rice in an economical combo dinner package ($4 to $7.50 depending on whether you want zero, one or two appetizers). Appetizers include ever-popular crab rangoons, boneless spareribs and egg rolls.
However, what truly separates Qingdao from other Chinese establishments around is the Qingdao-style pastry menu. This is not the usual puff pastry found at the local bakery, but small dishes served family style in a manner similar to tapas or dim sum.
Among the best pastry offerings are the Chinese dumplings. If you arrive between six and seven in the evenings, you may be lucky enough to try the dumplings just as they’re wrapped. The dumplings can be served fried like potstickers or boiled. Two of the best are the pork with Chinese cabbage and pork with leek. There are also vegetarian dumplings, and others filled with shrimp. Dumplings may be ordered 12 pieces at a time to eat in at the restaurant ($3.95 to $4.50) or frozen for take out in packages of 50 ($10 to $12) or 100 pieces ($19 to $23). Other worthy dim sum-type offerings include a bean curd skin with mushrooms ($4.50), (very) spicy pork tripe salad with sliced cucumbers ($4.50) and smoked fish ($5). For the adventurous, try Qingdao-style small dishes such as the sea cucumber with pork ($8.25) and the spicy sautéed sea conch ($9.50).
On the weekends, many are familiar with the traditional dim sum offerings at large Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. However, if you want to avoid a crowd, the family style brunches at small eateries like Qingdao can prove to be just as exciting. Starting with a bowl of sweetened soybean milk ($1), patrons then partake in a series of small plates of fried dumplings, buns and pies. A staple accompaniment to the soybean milk is the Chinese doughnut/fried cruller ($1.50). After that, diners can mix and match items such as scallion pancakes ($2.95), steamed Shanghainese pork buns (10 for $5.50), and leek pies ($2.75). For those who are still hungry, an effective and tasty filler comes in the form of broad rice noodle soups seasoned with hot chili oil. Standouts include the pork chop soup noodle ($5.50) or Dalu noodle ($5.50).
Admittedly, Qingdao Garden is not the best Chinese restaurant in the Boston area. However, its selection of pastries and brunch offerings (and its delivery service) help make more attractive option than most other Chinese dining options near HLS.
Qingdao Garden Chinese Restaurant
2382 Massachusetts Ave.
North Cambridge, MA
(617) 492-7540 or 7541