End of the line

Mongolian barbecue three ways

Sizzling Fresh Mongolian BBQ
3551 Truxel Road
(916) 419-8318

Sizzling Fresh Mongolian BBQ’s rating:

Mongolian Bar-B-Q by Great Wall
1537 Howe Ave., Suite 100
(916) 925-5347

Mongolian Bar-B-Q by Great Wall’s rating:

Golden Bowls Mongolian BBQ
9529 Folsom Blvd., Suite G
(916) 369-7364

Golden Bowls Mongolian BBQ’s rating:

Mongolian barbecue is neither. It originated in Taiwan in the 1970s and is basically stripped-down Japanese teppanyaki where diners pick their own fare. Some Mongolian barbecue joints will assert that Mongolian soldiers heated their shields over campfires, stir-frying meals with their swords. Pure myth. What also might be mythic is a Mongolian barbecue place whose offerings are something that can rightfully be called cuisine. So far, gourmet Mongolian barbecue are words as equally as ill-paired as “gourmet corn dog.”

Certainly the three establishments considered here cannot claim to be the standard against which all other Mongolian barbecues are measured. The three—one in Natomas, one in Arden Arcade and another on Folsom Boulevard near Bradshaw Road—offer comparable fare and comparable pricing. That poses some difficulty in distinguishing.

The most airy is Sizzling Fresh Mongolian BBQ, which besides Natomas, has another location in Elk Grove. Its three glass walls offer diners the scenic vista of a Walmart’s busy parking lot. Pay at the register, grab a bowl and move down the line.

There are no frozen wafers of lamb. Only beef, chicken, pork and turkey. There are the traditional fat noodles, celery, sprouts, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, scallions, mushrooms, broccoli and white onions, many of which aren’t neatly slivered. Management offers some advice on creating sauces. A sheet of paper taped to the glass above the cooking sauces suggests two ladles of house, two ladles of kung pao, one hot oil, one cooking wine, one sesame oil and one teriyaki will yield a “spicy” bowl. As insurance, a handful of jalapeños, available at the end of the line, are also dropped in as is a heaping spoonful of chopped garlic.

Other additional options include baby corncobs, pineapple—yes, please—cilantro—a dusting of it can’t hurt—and tofu. There’s a nearby bottle of sriracha. Why not?

There’s not much inside the egg roll that’s eventually brought. There’s also a paucity of prefab peas and carrot cubes in the rice. Given that the cooking stone the chefs are moving the bowl’s contents back and forth over is nearly 600 degrees, it’s best to let the contents sit for a bit before digging in.

Given the cooking stones are the same everywhere, this smoking-hot issue is also the case at Bar-B-Q by Great Wall, near Howe and Arden. The place has been around a long time, as some of the ceiling’s stains attest. It’s also dark. But it’s brightened, however, by the gracious and effervescent Jade, who dotes on infants, checks with customers and mutters, “Uh-oh SpaghettiOs,” when encountering a glitch with the cash register.

There are booths here, unlike Sizzling Fresh. There’s also alcohol and soup along with the rice and egg roll, for which no sweet-and-sour sauce is provided. Great Wall is also cash-only.

Unlike Sizzling Fresh there are no jalapeños, chicken or pineapple offered. There is a rack of spices though, including basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, cayenne and parsley, which offer some flavor possibilities not available at Sizzling Fresh or, for that matter, Golden Bowls, the third contestant. Veggie selection is pretty much identical to Sizzling Fresh, with more scrupulously cut onions. Three ladles of kung pao, three of hot chili and three house—with a splash of lobster sauce—proves insufficient to compensate for the lack of jalapeños. Plan B: generous sriracha pour.

Golden Bowls Mongolian BBQ takes work to find, tucked as it is into the back of a strip mall. It has no mushrooms or pineapple, but does offer red bell pepper and two types of noodles: fat and super fat. There’s ginger as well as chopped garlic at the end of the line. The egg flower soup is kinda bland. There are fried crisps instead of an egg roll, which add a bit of crunch when crumbled into the BBQ bowl.

Overall, Sizzling Fresh has the best variety of ingredients—save the absence of lamb—but Jade’s bright personality and Great Wall’s spice rack are also endearing. In the end, it may boil down to which one is closest to home or office.