By Ann Cipperly
Opening more than 20 years ago, Mandarin House is one of Opelika’s oldest restaurants, operated by the same family and features time-honored Chinese, Thai, Korean and Sushi dishes. Owner Alan Wang grew up with his parents in the restaurant business in Seoul, South Korea. The family immigrated to America and has remained in the restaurant business, using their family recipes.
When Wang first came to the United States in 1982, his family settled in Los Angeles, Calif. His uncle opened the first Mandarin House in Birmingham, and then wanted the family to move to Alabama.
In 1983, Wang moved to Tuscaloosa to open a Mandarin House and then to Columbus, Ga. in 1984 to open another location. “In Columbus, we had many customers from the Opelika-Auburn area, so we knew this would be a good place to open a restaurant,” Wang said.
In 1996, they sold the restaurant in Columbus and opened the Opelika Mandarin House on Pepperell Parkway in the building previously occupied by one of Opelika’s first McDonald’s restaurants. Through the years, additional rooms have been added and the ambiance remodeled and enhanced with booths and unique lantern light fixtures.
Wang said that the Mandarin style of cooking is different from some other Chinese styles. “In China, different regions have a different culture and food style,” Wang said. “Mandarin is in the northern part of China. Mandarin cuisine has strong flavorful seasonings and less grease than Cantonese style.”
His family teaches their children how to cook their recipes. Wang’s brother taught his son to cook, and he is the chef at the Opelika location. “He is 52 and has been cooking for over 30 years,” Wang said.
Wang said it was difficult getting ingredients and seasonings in the southeast when his family first opened Mandarin House locations. They ordered from New York then, but with the growth in Atlanta, Ga., it is much easier for them to obtain ingredients now. They receive deliveries several times a week.
Through the years, Wang has incorporated Korean and Thai dishes, featuring seasonings like basil, lime and lemongrass.
A $10 lunch buffet is available every day except Monday when Mandarin House is closed. “The reason I do the buffet is because people are busy,” Wang said. “People don’t have to order food and wait for it, it is ready at the buffet.”
Wang said Mandarin House does not offer a buffet at night, as the dinner service is over a few hours and would result in food waste. “When you order at dinner, t is prepared fresh and is consistent,” Wang said.
The dishes are prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients. Wang uses fresh chicken and beef that they cut and marinate in-house. They use fresh vegetables, including broccoli, snow peas, asparagus, carrots and sprouts. “I believe our food is healthy,” says Wang.
“We have customers coming from Montgomery and Columbus,” he said. “No one makes hot and sour soup like we do.”
Other popular dishes include Mongolian beef, sesame chicken, “Happy Family,” pork and seafood dishes.
A few of the chef’s specialties include beef or chicken with shitake mushrooms, chef’s special noodle bowl with Chinese soft noodles topped with shrimp, scallops and fresh vegetables in broth. Another popular dish is Mongolian trio combining shrimp, chicken, and beef sautéed with red peppers, and green onions bedded on shredded rice sticks.
Wang received an award last year from the Better Business Bureau that was presented to him by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce.
For the first nine years the restaurant was owned by his brother, and Wang helped before becoming owner. “Brothers and sisters always help each other,” Wang said. “When you move to another country, the family has to be strong and help each other. That is how you survive.”
“We are fortunate that we have a lot of regular customers that bring their friends. Our restaurant is by word of mouth with friends bringing friends,” Wang said. “We appreciate being a part of this community, and growing with this community. We are happy here. We are working hard, and sending our children to school for them to get a good education and a good job.”
Mandarin House is located at 3800 Pepperell Parkway in Opelika and is open for lunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Sunday-Thursday from 4:30-9:30 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.