Co-written by Anthony Stafford
How would you describe Los Angeles? Colorful, vibrant, diverse, or perhaps, a multicultural melting pot?
If any of those adjectives came to mind, you would be right in believing so. However, when it comes to the “melting pots” of the world, it is rare to find a restaurant that authentically captures the different essences of the world. Sure, there are plenty of themed restaurants offering cuisines from exotic places, but how often do you find a singular restaurant offering unbelievable cuisines from around the world? Luckily, for Southern California, there is a special place, tucked away in the city of Northridge, which offers exactly this: Mambo International Kitchen (IG: @MamboResto).
We recently had the opportunity to try some of their newest menu items, along with a few other popular dishes we missed during our first visit. In addition, we could not pass up a unique opportunity to meet with co-owner Donna, who, like our first visit, was immensely kind and hospitable. The love of food, culture and people truly flows throughout every dish, drink and dessert that the owners share. Mambo International Kitchen should be on your foodie radar — otherwise, you are doing yourself a major disservice.
Upon our arrival, we prepared for the amazing food journey we were about to embark on — from the Philippines to the Americas. Our anticipation set in, and before we knew it, it was chow time. It’s worth noting that dishes typically don’t take long to come out, and even during peak business hours, Mambo tries not to keep customers waiting longer than 15 minutes for their order — great for any workday lunch.
The Best Hydration
If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know it’s been discovered that water alone is not that great at hydrating humans. In fact, water infused with fruit is substantially more effective. Cue Mambo’s new Pineapple and Watermelon Agua Frescas! Light, sweet, and tasting like they had just been squeezed from their respective fruits, these drinks were not only cool and refreshing, but they also prepared our palates for the new high-profile appetizer— fried tofu! (Bonus: Mambo also now offers Stubborn Soda — a healthier alternative!)
Wake Up, Buds!
Tofu is not particularly known for flavorful attributes and understandably so. It’s all about how it’s used, combining flavor, texture, or both. In the case of Mambo, the fried tofu provides exactly one half of this dish: texture and appeal (… and preventing you from drinking a flavor-filled zingy sauce, alone). Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, we received over a dozen fried tofu cubes, piping hot and stacked next to their “other half,” a ramekin of savory vinegar sauce for dunking them into. A mouth-awakening sauce, this specialty is packed with flavor from its namesake vinegar, soy, onions, cilantro, garlic, ginger, spices, and subtle sweet undertones. A match made in heaven is an understatement for these two, however, if you’re not a big fan of vinegary flavors, Mambo offers a sweet and sour sauce as well.
A Flavor Flight with a Side of Garlic Noodles
With freshly receptive taste buds ready to go, our jaws were seething to dig into the entrees and main dishes. We were presented with some of Mambo’s newest offerings, as well as some older favorites. It’s safe to say that Mambo can take the likes of Buffalo Wild Wings head-on with their own chicken wings, aptly named “Frequent Flyers”. #TeamFlats, anyone?
Mambo presents an impressive list of international flavors for their Frequent Flyers which come in 6 or 12 count orders, with up to 2 to 3 flavors each. Equally impressive is the size of the wings, which put some other wing specialty places to shame. We’re looking at you, Wing Stop. Mambo’s saucy options include Filipino Sweet and Sour, Atlanta Lemon Pepper, Indian Tikka Masala, and Mexican Chipotle Aioli to name just a few. The flavors we had the privilege of tasting were Tokyo Umami Aioli and Korean Barbecue.
Boldly vibrant and orange, the Tokyo Umami Aioli wings visually reminded us of traditional American buffalo wings. What these lacked, however, was the nose-tickling aroma of vinegar and spices, and signature tear-jerking spiciness. Despite what they lacked in comparison to a traditional buffalo wing, Mambo’s wings stood in their own spotlight, covered in savory, sweet, umami goodness. On the other hand, the Korean Barbeque Flyers were almost unlike any chicken wing we’ve ever had. If you’ve ever had beef bulgogi, you’ll understand that sweet and bitter barbecue flavor that is barely reminiscent of teriyaki sauce— but on chicken. If you’ve never had bulgogi, the best way to describe it would be barbecue sauce with a soy sauce and ginger-like “twang”.
At this point, Mambo seems like they can do it all, and then when you consider we’re only halfway in, you just know they can do it all. Up next were the Garlic Noodles. There are noodles, and then there are noodles. Mambo provides an experience so strikingly authentic, that if we were to wake up blindfolded and try their Garlic Noodles, all signs would point to us being overseas and ordering freshly made street food in Asia. Not a soup, not a bowl, but nearly pad Thai-style noodles in a barely there flavorful coating of whatever decadent magic Mambo’s chefs put together. It’s as if they injected each noodle with garlic flavor, then cooked them in even more flavor, and immediately delivered them to us. Fortunately, our tour didn’t end here, as we devoured tacos, a recently controversial sandwich, and a Filipino favorite.
Let’s Taco ‘Bout It: Who Has The Best Chicken Sandwich?
Imagine for a moment you’re basking in the tropical sun of a Mexican beach. Well, that’s exactly where Mambo’s Tacos will take you. These tacos are a culinary masterpiece of crunchy fried shrimp, lettuce, pico de gallo, and a smoky, mild chipotle aioli all coming together on a corn tortilla for a tearfully delicious union. One of our favorite tacos, we’d recommend this to everyone — with extra aioli! Mambo’s Taco comes in a flavorful trio, and sets the stage for a filling time.
Our next dish — another Filipino favorite — was the Tapsilog Rice Bowl, and it brought back strong memories of the Hong Kong Rice Bowl. The main comparison here was the unforgettable garlic rice, however, this time we received a sunny side up fried egg atop the rice, and beef tapa, rather than pork. Each bite of this bowl set off a savory explosion of love as we mixed the egg into the rice, and tossed the strips of beef into the fray. Yet and still, we had quite a way to go: Mambo’s Chicken Sandwich with sweet potato fries.
America was recently overcome with strong emotion about who had the better chicken sandwich between Popeyes and Chick-fil-a. With all the arguments, fussing and fighting that went on, we shook our heads at the poor souls who fell victim to that debacle. Little did everyone know, Mambo was the savior they needed at the time. Easily one of our favorite dishes from this list, Mambo’s Chicken Sandwich features a large fried chicken fillet, melty muenster cheese, garlic aioli, tomato, lettuce, and onion, embedded between a buttery soft bun. Juicy, tender, and delivering an addicting flavorful crunch, Mambo has perfected their chicken sandwich, as they have everything else. Seasoned to perfection, we couldn’t recommend this sandwich more.
What More Could U-be Excited For?
Finally, we couldn’t be any more disappointed to reach the end of our voyage with the arrival of dessert. What could quite possibly be the most unique sweet treat we’ve ever had, Mambo’s Ube S’more was not nearly what we expected, and we couldn’t be happier! It took us by surprise because this s’more was not melty and messy, but rather neat and cold. A perfectly cylindrical presentation of lemon custard, ube jam, and lightly torched meringue sat upon a graham crust. While it may seem more like a cheesecake with its density, foundation, and temperature, Mambo’s Ube S’more was pleasantly surprising, and brimming with a sweet arrangement of exciting citrus, gentle ube, and the familiar graham cracker taste most kids come to love. If no other part of this massive meal filled us up, the ube s’more was the key that locked the door. The density of this dessert is enough that two people can share it and be well beyond satisfied.
If the exhausting run down of the food wasn’t enough to sell you, we have to ask if you’re human. If money is a concern, and your pockets aren’t very deep? Well, rest assured that Mambo International Kitchen offers plenty of money-saving options to help guests spare a few bucks. You can find a number of penny-pinching methods to save below, and try different ways to combine the savings where applicable.
Yelp: Check in for a free Korean taco.
Mambo Loyalty Punch card: A free dessert on every 5th visit, and a free rice bowl on every 10th visit.
Happy Hour: Tuesday through Friday, from 2 pm to 5 pm, $1 off all appetizers.
Every Tuesday: $10 rice bowls
Catering: Mambo does have catering options, and you can even reserve the entire restaurant for an event!
In addition to all these money-saving methods, we must say, Mambo International Kitchen has quite an extensive menu. It’s exciting to see so much that sounds so amazing, yet heartbreaking to have to come back to give some of those other things a try. It’s easy to go crazy ordering from the menu, but expect to be well over your head, as Mambo’s dishes are filling, and larger than one might expect. While this tasteful journey does have to end, it’s always reassuring to know that that another delicious trek around the world isn’t too far away, and always available at Mambo International Kitchen. We’re always delighted to step into the miniature world within our world, and hope for more people to experience their “food trip around the world.”
The owners of Mambo are very passionate about good food and equal to that is their delight in hosting and serving people. For many years they’ve dreamed of opening a restaurant that people will love and finally that dream is now a reality.
Our company is established with a passion and desire to serve high quality and cost-effective gourmet food with excellent customer service; quickly and consistently. By combining homestyle comfort food with creative and fun dishes, and a family friendly atmosphere with old industrial decor, we know Mambo is soon to be a community favorite.
8300 Tampa Ave
Northridge, CA 91324