Dining review: Ho Mei BBQ rewards the adventurous eater
South Salt Lake • Moving to Salt Lake City from a city with a vigorous Chinatown neighborhood, I immediately noted the culinary absence when I arrived. I craved the vibrancy and diversity of the cuisine of my home city. I scoured the Salt Lake Valley for years, every so often finding fleeting solace in a particular dish here or there, but never quite finding the eclecticism of home.
When in Rome, though, do as the Romans do; slowly I adapted. Mind you, man cannot live off lettuce wraps and General Tso's chicken alone. And I confess to more than once breaking down at the sight of yet another cream cheese wonton don't judge, this is the life of a pretentious food obsessive.
When officials broke ground in 2011 on South Salt Lake's Chinatown project, I'll confess to initial skepticism. Skip forward to 2013, and phase two of construction is busily unfolding. When I spied Ho Mei BBQ and its tag line "an authentic Chinese food adventure" it was hook, line and sinker for this chap.
To call Ho Mei BBQ's menu extensive would be to call the Bonneville Salt Flats ever so salty. I gave up counting individual dishes once I passed the 200 mark. It's easier to list the multitude of categories: soup, appetizers, barbecue, rice rolls, noodle soups, rice plates, fried rice dishes, porridge, noodle preparations, vegetables, chicken/beef/chicken/seafood selections, Sichuan, sizzling hot plates, clay pots and "hometown"-style items.
With such a bewildering choice, it's easy to default to more recognizable American-Chinese dishes. My joking aside, if sweet and sour chicken is your thing, then by all means. But Ho Mei BBQ demands adventurous souls and rewards them aplenty. If you're such an explorer, don't be afraid to enlist your servers; they'll happily guide you through the menu.
Prospecting Ho Mei BBQ's menu doesn't require as much bravery as you might think, either. I don't suggest jumping straight in at pig stomach with jalapeÃ±o ($8.95) or beef tripe with pickle vegetables ($8.95), but dishes like an appetizer of fried crispy buns ($3.50) or an entrÃ©e of tri shredded stir-fried udon ($9.50) would go down well in most homes across Utah. The former: rounds of crunchy, calorific fried bread with a mayo-esque dip. The latter: thick Japanese udon noodles cooked with strips of tender pork, chicken, beef and bean sprouts in a simple, delicate coating of soy sauce. Both delicious, both thoroughly accessible.
Willing to journey deeper? Preserved meat stir fried with string beans ($8.95) would be gobbled up by most folks despite the curious name. Crisp beans are given an unctuous finish with the preserved pork, which is really just a mental hop, skip and jump from something far more commonplace like green beans and bacon bits found on the Thanksgiving table.
One of my favorite dishes is salted fish and chicken fried rice ($8.95) rendered admirably at Ho Mei. Quality fried rice is the base, with none of that carrot and pea nonsense, brought to pungent, vivid life with flecks of salted fish. If you're good with anchovies or Thai fish sauce, you'll be safe here.
The same salty flakes stud the salted fish, diced chicken and tofu in clay pot ($9.25) from the Clay Pot section of the menu. Another intimidating-sounding dish is the scalding hot, bubbling clay pot, but in practice this won't frighten anyone who's seen a casserole before, and the flavors are more subtle than sledgehammer. Indeed, Chinese dining is often more about texture than taste.
Rice rolls ($2.75-$3.85), for example, are a great plate for two to share to start, highlighting this element to Chinese cuisine. Choose from 11 options, which wrap your chosen ingredient in an impossibly silky roll rice noodle, finished with sweet soy sauce. I loved the Chinese doughnut rice roll ($3.25), wrapping a crisp bread stick inside said pillowy soft noodle.
Of course, not every dish is going to translate perfectly to local taste buds. Sichuan spicy diced chicken ($8.95) was fine in flavor but finicky in function. The spicy Sichuan base itself was enjoyable; the chunks of bone-in chicken, less so. Prices are shockingly reasonable, though it's easy to take a plunge on something new and risk little; virtually everything here is less than $10.
And then there are Ho Mei's signature dishes BBQ ($4.25-$9.95), offered daily and in great variety: roasted pork, BBQ pork, BBQ spare ribs, roasted duck, soy sauce chicken, steamed chicken, stewed beef, spiced duck wings, spiced pig stomach, spiced cuttlefish and spiced intestine. Indeed, racks of hanging barbecue will likely greet you as you enter the clean, uncluttered restaurant space.
Barbecue can be ordered Ã la carte or together as part of either a Two Delicacy ($7.95) or Thee Delicacy ($10.95) combo. Newcomers to Chinese BBQ should start with the roasted pork ($6.25), which when executed well is a porcine delight of crispy, meaty and fatty layering.
A meal at Ho Mei BBQ concludes simply with the bill. There's nary a fortune cookie in sight, and for this happy eater, I think I've found a new home away from home.
Ho Mei BBQ
Food • HHhj
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
Ho Mei is a self-styled "authentic Chinese food adventure," offering Chinese barbecue, rice rolls, clay pot and more. It's worth stepping outside your comfort zone and exploring the diverse menu.
Location • 3370 S. State St., South Salt Lake; 801-486 8800
Online • facebook.com/pages/Ho-Mei-BBQ/633836183310234
Hours • Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; closed Monday
Children's menu • No
Prices • $
Liquor • Beer and wine
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes