Arts restaurant review

Mu Lan Taiwanese Restaurant: a great Cambridge dining staple

a place that satisfies your cravings for Taiwanese food

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Fish fillet in spicy bean sauce (豆瓣魚片)
Vivian Hir–The Tech
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Stir-fried string beans (干扁四季豆)
Vivian Hir–The Tech


Mu Lan
Taiwanese, $$
228 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
Monday to Saturday 11 a.m.–7 p.m. 


The last time I went to Mu Lan, a Taiwanese restaurant on Broadway 15 minutes away from Lobby 7, I had one of the worst meals of my life. It was 8 p.m. on a Saturday night during Family Weekend. After a cold scary walk alone in the dark, I met my parents and a group of Chinese-American families from Minnesota at Mu Lan. To give a sense of the gathering’s vibe for those who don’t have immigrant parents, some of the adults wore “Harvard parent” pins on their chests like they’d won something. The college students of the group were made to introduce ourselves and say where we went to school before we’d even ordered. For the next ten minutes, every other word out of anyone’s mouth was “MIT” or “Harvard”. It was excruciating, and the rest of the dinner wasn’t much better. I left as soon as I finished eating. 


Thankfully, my most recent experience at Mu Lan with Vivian was much better. We’d eaten together at Mu Lan before, and once Vivian and I agreed to start writing restaurant reviews together, this venue — a place with decent Chinese food not too far from campus — seemed like a great place to start. 


When you first walk into Mu Lan, you’re greeted by waitstaff at the podium, who then seat you. The main room is very welcoming, with soft yellow lighting, big open windows, spacious seating, and consistent East Asian decor. About two-thirds of the tables were occupied when we went, so there was a nice buzz of conversation in the background. Despite this, Vivian and I could still hear each other. There were also people speaking Mandarin around us, which is always a good sign. Vivian arrived first and sat down at a small table for two near the front of the room, by the windows. I joined a few minutes later. 


Before we ordered, we got complimentary jasmine green tea and a small plate of pickled vegetables. The pickled vegetables were surprisingly flavorful, given that at first glance they seemed to just be unseasoned raw vegetables. They worked well as an appetizer, and best of all, we didn’t have to pay for them. 


The waiter came soon after we sat down. It was a bit hard to choose what to order at first, since Mu Lan’s menu boasts a total of 179 dishes. The options included seafood, many vegetable dishes, and a diverse range of meat options. There’s also a lunch special on the weekdays for reduced prices, but with smaller portion sizes. Since we went on Saturday, that unfortunately wasn’t an option for us. We ended up ordering stir-fried string beans (干扁四季豆) and fish filet in spicy bean sauce (豆瓣魚片). We ate family-style, the only correct way to eat at a Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant. 


The stir-fried string beans arrived within ten minutes of ordering, which was a pleasant surprise given how busy the place was. The portion size was good for its price of $13.95. The beans had a dark, shiny soy sauce glaze and a generous amount of cooking oil. According to the waiter, the beans were first deep-fried, then stir-fried. The beans weren’t overcooked or burnt. They were a bit soft though, and could have been more crispy, especially since they were deep-fried. 


The sauce had a nice savory taste but could have used a bit more salt. This dish can sometimes be really oily, but that wasn’t an issue at Mu Lan. The minced garlic bits on the beans were properly burnt, and the green beans were appropriately wrinkly. Overall, it was a solid rendition of a pretty famous Sichuan dish, even though it wasn’t spicy. (Other restaurants often serve this dish spicy, but Mu Lan had no such option.) The dish had a pleasant umami taste, but there was a hint of melted granulated sugar and ginger in the sauce, which gave the beans a more complex and enriching flavor. 


The fish filet in spicy bean sauce was also decently sized, though at $24, it was on the more expensive end. The first bite was a satisfying experience because of how warm and soft it was. The viscous red sauce was a nice mix of sweet and sour, which complemented the spiciness. While there were a couple of red chili flakes sprinkled on the fish, the piquancy was rather light. The crunchiness and freshness of the scallion garnish on the fish helped balance out the sauce. The fish filet had a pleasant taste, though for some people this dish may not have been spicy enough for their palate. 


We also got individual rice bowls, each for $1.95. That’s a bit pricey for rice, but we really couldn’t have eaten the dishes we ordered without it, given the strengths of the individual sauces. 


As a whole, the dining experience at Mu Lan was delightful because the dishes had contrasting tastes and textures. For those who want Chinese or Taiwanese food but don’t want to make the trip to Chinatown, Mu Lan is a great option for its proximity to campus, the variety of menu options, and its moderate price range. You can bring a large group, or go with a friend. The service is fast and friendly; our waiter was knowledgeable about the dishes and happy to answer our questions. Mu Lan is certainly a place worth going back to.