I grew up in a town that had just two Chinese restaurants. The one my family frequented was swathed in dragon paintings, red plastic tablecloths, and zodiac-sign placemats. The cuisine was Americanized—but it’s where I had my first tastes of won ton soup and chicken lo mein. Then, in high school, I found myself at a friend’s dinner table, surrounded by dishes cooked by her Taiwanese mother. It only took one bite to discover that Chinese cuisine didn’t have to be one-dimensional.
Fast-forward to 2011 and a counter in the tiny, 20-seat Zoe Ma Ma. Owner Edwin Zoe opened the Boulder eatery in May 2010, hired his Taiwanese mother as executive chef (hence the name), and promised all-natural, home-style cooking. These were the foods Edwin had grown up with in Taiwan before moving to the states almost 40 years ago—all made from family recipes his mother had cooked for decades.
The menu board offers just six mains (plus daily specials and sides). Order and before you know it, Ma Ma is at the counter calling out your dish. Then sit down and tuck into the roast duck and won ton soup, a heady blend of roasted duck, baby bok choy, and egg noodles, all bathed in a stock made from the duck bones. It’s mouthwatering in its simplicity, each ingredient building off the others.
Before long, Ma Ma is back with the next dish: CPR, a Chinese take on meat and potatoes. It’s a comforting mix of chicken, spuds, and white rice in a meaty broth.
Even if your comfort zone is sesame chicken (which you won’t find here), it’s impossible not to feel at ease in a place where regulars say breezy hellos to Ma Ma. And with food as homespun as the atmosphere, I’ve finally found the balance of flavor and authenticity I’ve been looking for here on the Front Range. Zoe Ma Ma, 2010 10th St., Boulder, 303-545-6262, zoemama.com.