Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Q is still a Chico fave
Chico, CA 95973
Thirteenth-century conquerer Genghis Khan is credited with the invention of Mongolian barbecue. Hoards of his hungry soldiers used their shields to grill livestock sliced thinly with the same swords used during the day’s ravaging and pillaging. Constantly maneuvering the raw ingredients around the barbecue enabled the food to cook quickly and evenly without oils.
As the cooking style spread throughout China, ingredients were added to the mix, including vegetables and noodles, but the large circular barbecue remains a mainstay.
Hula’s Chinese Bar-B-Q is a modern version of this simpler and healthier cooking method, and at two Chico strip-mall locations, you can step back in time to experience the Mongolian barbecue meal.
Hula’s first opened in 1984. Owners Rick and Linda Storey originally set out to recreate the food they tasted during a trip to Hawaii. When they noticed customers requesting items be left out of their stir fry, the couple came up with the idea to allow customers to create the stir-fry combinations to suit individual tastes.
They opened the north Chico restaurant in the shopping center at East Avenue and the Esplanade in 1990, changing their concept from a Hawaiian-style menu to a Chinese self-serve, and the restaurant’s popularity enabled the opening of another location in the Target shopping center in South Chico in 2001.
I’ve enjoyed Hula’s many times, usually dining at the south Chico location. Recently, I took my friend to the northside restaurant. At first, he was reluctant to eat at a self-serve buffet for lunch, but was willing to join me when I offered to pay and I promised him that Hula’s was not typical strip-mall food.
It was my first time at this location, and I should not have been surprised that the inside was identical to its southern sister restaurant. More than 30 tables fill the dining area, a long buffet offers multiple raw ingredients, and the large, round gridiron where all the action happens is conveniently placed for easy watching.
I guided my friend to the buffet, which holds five types of meat, more than a dozen fresh vegetables, thick noodles and several seasonings to flavor your selections to your specific tastes. My friend marveled at the array of choices: broccoli, bamboo shoots, carrots and bell peppers are just a few of the vegetables; frozen meats of lamb, beef, pork and chicken are in thin-sliced rolls and small cubes of tofu are available.
A variety of sauces and spices, such as ginger, garlic, teriyaki and Mongolian hot sauce allows you to choose how tangy, spicy, sweet or savory your meal will become. You also choose if oils or salt are used.
“How can you go wrong?” he noted. “Everything in your meal was put in by your own hand.”
We had no wait at the grill. Somewhat embarrassed by the giant portion I had stuffed into my bowl, I handed it to one of the grill chefs. Using a long wooden chop stick, he slid my ingredients around the hot gridiron, circling several times until the meat was thoroughly cooked and the veggies lightly grilled.
Up to three meals can be prepared at once, the chefs constantly circling the grill. After a few minutes, the grill chef scooped up my steaming hot meal into a fresh bowl.
Vegetarians may request the grill to be cleaned before their meal is cooked. The grill is typically cleaned several times an hour.
Back at our table we found appetizers, hot soup and a bowl of rice waiting for us. All are included in the $8.99 lunch cost. After 4 p.m., the all-you-can-eat dinner is $11.49. Children younger than 10 are half-price.
The service is really friendly, and both restaurants are clean and comfortable and the ingredients are delicious. The number of meals you can create is infinite, and you’ll want to eat everything on your plate. After all, you put it there.