Sun Tung Restaurant - a real find!
Tucked into a small store front restaurant, Sun Tung turns out fresh and tasty dishes without MSG and at very reasonable prices. Located at 153 S. B Street in San Mateo (650) 342-5330, this family restaurant has been serving customers for approximately 20 yrs. and is still a favorite of the locals. They serve familiar choices like excellent hot & sour soup and kung pao chicken, prawns and squid, but they will also prepare dishes from Northern China, their former homeland, if asked. We asked that they "surprise" us with a dish from their homeland and all 6 of us thoroughly enjoyed a heaping plate of various vegetables, tofu and chicken in a special sauce. It was full of flavor. Since we don't know the name of this dish, we will simply ask to be "surprised" again. You will not be disappointed with whatever you order!
Agreed, this mom & pop operation is simple homey and hole in the wall-ish, similar to Happy Cafe up the street, but a different niche of food.
Here are my notes for:
- Hot soy milk (sweet) version is good but small portion.
- Cruller/fried Chinese donut stick is toasty with just enough crunch, and not too oily, unlike the ugly greasy log sticks from Marina Supermarket's deli.
- Chive boxes (jieo tsai her zi) are toasty baked on the outside, but the contents are very authentic like in Taiwan (finely chopped chives, fun si/bean thread noodles, egg).
- Green onion pancakes are baked, not deep fried. Good starch/dough layers, and consistency, but lacking in green onion flavor (it's a bit dried up inside, maybe not enough oil, but I think not enough scallions)
- XLB. This is Sun Tung's take on the Shanghainese classic. If you go to Happy Cafe or Shangai East, their XLBs are petite small bite sized. These were easily 1.5x per. The insides were not 100% meat and soup, but meat and chopped veg of some sort (cabbage). The skins were medium thickness. The sad part was that despite there being soup, the liquid that came out after you poke a hole, is clear and not very interesting. Turned out even after steaming, the most flavorful and gelatinous part of the soup still remained congealed and did not melt inside that should have been XLB soup proper once you crack a hole in the skin. It remained a thumb nail spot of goop, and as a result the experience dipped. It's a good filler nonetheless. Maybe we went on an off day or got a mediocre batch.
Regular menu / wall specials
- Beef Noodle Soup - Niu Rou Mien. Good take, probably the "best" in San Mateo. Beef brisket cut, stewed for a long time until very tender. Noodles are not as tasty as San Tung in SF, but slurpy and bouncy (a tad bit chewier). Broth is sadly too sweet and there were hints of herbal ingredients in it that was rather overwhelming. Some spinach gave it the final touch.
- Garlic bulb (or stem) marinated tofu. This was a Chinese wall special and you can order this as "suan miao dou gan". Strips of marinated dried tofu stir fried with what looked like julienned yellow chive but were the stem of the garlic bulb, and with the obligatory garlic and soy sauce of course. Super homey dish that tasted exponentially better with self help application of white pepper.
- Ma Yi Shang Shu. This is on the regular menu that translates to "ants climbing trees". It was actually the thicker bean thread noodles (fun si) with minced pork stir fried in soy sauce. It doesn't look like much but it was EXCELLENT. White pepper makes this dish king, along with steamed rice.
- pork and cabbage dumplings. Unfortunately this key staple dish was poorly mispresented. Skins were just a micron bit thick (not the big deal) but the insides were heavily seasoned with OVERtones of sesame oil and soy sauce (as if they cooked the dumplings in a soy sauce solution). Still edible and decent for San Mateo but I wish they just made it plain and no seasoning.
Also seen on the Chinese only wall menu are small (cold) marinated appetizers like beef flank slices and tendon. I'm sure there are more gems yet to be tried.
Service here is decent, and the wife owner is really cool and nice.
I'm starting to enjoy this place more and more. There are definite hits and misses. The hits however are spot on and provide that home cooking feeling (especially if you are from Northern China somewhere or Taiwan). The misses can be disappointing but don't let that stop you from coming here.