- 216 E. Sixth St., Cincinnati, OH, 45202
- Overall User Rating:
- (3 ratings)
- 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday; 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday.
- Official Web Site:
Shanghai in the 1920s was apparently a good place to be. Known as the “Paris of the East,” the city flourished with arts and culture but there were also ne’r-do-wells in the form of gangsters, opium traders and a lady named Mama.
“After a long vacation, Mama’s back! Watch out!” reads a sign inside the recently renovated Downtown late-night spot. A fire in October forced them to shutter their doors until they reopened last month with a restored bar area and new menu items.
The mood: We dined during a weeknight evening, and out of the 20 or so tables available, only three of them were occupied with people like young couples and families slurping bowls of Mama’s famous noodles. Occasionally, people walked in and grabbed bags of carry out.
The dimly lit dining room felt like a speakeasy, with dark, sturdy wooden tables, Billie Holiday crooning over the PA system and lanterns dangling from the ceiling.
The food: They have an exhaustive selection on their menu divided into categories of noodles, rice bowls, about 20 types of starters, chilled salads, fried rice, wraps and Vegetarian Paradise offering dishes made with seitan. There’s the traditional Chinese foodstuffs, but it’s Mama’s non-traditional dishes that are first-rate.
We jumped in and ordered Shanghai ravioli, veggie hot and sour soup, and a chilled bamboo salad . The ravioli (only $3) was the most interesting dish of the night: hot mustard, spinach, ginger, tofu and sriracha sauce trapped inside a green-hued ravioli pocket. A spicy pepper icon doesn’t appear next to the dish, so beware of its attitude.
For entrees, both Adam and I went for oddities of sake braised mussels and fish and chips. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen fish and chips on a Chinese restaurant menu, especially when those chips are actually yuca fries – a Latin, not Asian, delicacy. The mussels came with flat bread, but another type of bread would have better absorbed the tomato-y and rich broth.
The best dish was surprisingly my fish and chips: lightly breaded sole nuggets dusted with a blend of five secret seasonings and two dipping sauces – a ginger-soy concoction and a pinkish tartar sauce. Considering all of the food we received, most items were a value, priced $10 and under.
Because the menu was so large and the first time we didn’t try anything traditional, we got carry out a couple of nights later. This time, we tried the veggie fried rice, which was fairly pedestrian. Happy Buddah – an array of veggies and spongy, bread-like seitan tangled in glass noodles sitting on a bed of rice – was good.
The drinks: Wine, beer and a variety of sake run the gamut on their drink menu, but instead of trying anything authentic, I sipped on a green iced tea and Adam consumed a Yuengling draft.
The verdict: Because of its high quality and inexpensive dishes, one could describe Shanghai Mama’s as “urban Asian,” or “hipster Asian” akin to AmerAsia, but Mama is more inclusive . She opens her arms to lunchers, family and hipster dinner diners, and late-night troublemakers.