Newly opened “Lao Ma La” is not cuisine catered to the faintest of taste buds. This Chinese-style restaurant stands on the north side of Chinatown – its name ‘Ma La’ translating to “peppercorn spicy”.
Lao Ma La’s owner Tony Hu is a dominating restaurateur in Chinese cuisine, opening up his seventh food chain in the Chinatown area.
Upon entry Lao Ma La appears to only have bar seating and two dining tables. However, patrons will be pleasantly surprised to find a full-sized and modern dining room just behind the bar.
Menu items are reasonably priced. Generous-sized lunch portion average about six dollars a plate.
Adventurous diners should try the green bean jelly. The dish contains jello-like cubes tossed in a spicy sauce.
Hu graduated from China’s first culinary school in his hometown of Cheng Du in 1989. He opened his first ‘Lao’ restaurant in 1997, which is still open for business on the south end of the Chinatown strip today. Hu focuses on serving traditional-style Mandarin cuisine at his seven restaurants.
Wayne Liang, manager of ‘Ken Kee”, a local Cantonese restaurant believes Hu’s success derives from his style of cuisine. “It used to be 90 percent Cantonese [cuisine] in Chinatown and Tony does Mandarin style,” Liang said, who is good friends with Hu.
Small food businesses are not the only ones familiar with Hu’s succession, as many Chinatown businesses acknowledged Hu’s entrepreneurial accomplishments.
Julie Lam, a clerk at a local convenience store in Chinatown, believes Hu’s personable attitude is what makes him successful. “He has been around for a long time and owns a lot. If he walks by and sees me, he will wave and say hi,” she said.
Phoebe Wu, who manages a local food establishment named “Sweet Station” said Hu donates a lot to Chinatown events.“Hu doesn’t care about competition. He just wants to bring out more Chinese restaurants to let Americans know about it,” she said.
Lao Ma La is located at 2017 S. Wells St.
Karla Venegas and Brian Tabick contributed reporting.
- Tony Hu’s expanding empire(chicagoreader.com)