When a fire closed the original Bali Hai in 2013, a lot of longtime fans were heartbroken. The Raleigh restaurant was the first – and for much of its 30-plus year existence, the only – destination in the area for fans of Mongolian barbecue.
One of those fans was Amrit Narula, who had been a devoted regular since the late ’90s, when Bali Hai’s ample bowlfuls of stir-fried fare fueled his studies as a mechanical engineering student at N.C. State. Like many others, Narula eagerly waited for the owners to announce the restaurant’s reopening. And waited. And waited.
The damage to the building had been extensive, and it took the owners two years to settle on a new location. The restaurant finally reopened in September 2015, in Garner – consolation, to be sure, but a bit of a haul from the original location.
“I still wanted a place closer to home,” Narula says, “and I know a lot of other people who felt the same way.”
So he decided to do something about it. He launched the food truck Mr. Mongolian, which hit the road in February 2017 and has been racking up the miles all over the Triangle ever since. In Narula’s zeal to bring Mongolian barbecue close to as many people as he can, he fills nearly every day of the week with at least one scheduled stop.
He applies that same zeal to the food, insisting on fresh ingredients and scratch preparation. That includes the homemade (and highly recommended) coconut macaroon cookies. “The only thing we don’t make is the dumplings,” he says of the truck’s alternative offering for those looking for a lighter bite.
If you’ve had Mongolian barbecue, you know the drill. If you’re a novice, or if you just need a refresher, here are the steps, along with a few tips to help you make your selections.
Step 1. Decide whether you want a regular or large bowl. Tip: The regular is plenty for most appetites. The large is only $2 more, though, and well worth it if you can plan on taking home leftovers.
Step 2. Select your protein: chicken, pork, shrimp ($2 extra), beef, tofu, or any combination. I like pork and shrimp.
Step 3. Choose your veggies. Again, you can create any combination you like, but my advice is not to overdo it. If you’re in doubt, the “chef’s choice” items marked with an asterisk (potato, cabbage, carrot, pineapple and onion) are a safe bet.
Step 4. Decide whether you’d like your creation served over white rice or fried rice – or, if you’re watching the carbs, cabbage for a $1 surcharge.
Step 5. Choose your spice level: five levels, from “none” to “X-hot.” Six, if you count “Vesta Reaper Dry Hot Sauce.” Order that last one at your own risk.
Step 6. Choose any optional add-ons. Fried egg? Yes, please. I’ll pass on the white sauce, but if you’re a fan of the yum yum sauce you get in Japanese steakhouses, knock yourself out.
More than three decades after the Triangle got its first taste of Mongolian barbecue, there are still only a handful of restaurants specializing in the cuisine. Now, thanks to Mr. Mongolian, chances are there’s a place nearby where you can get your fix at least one day this week.
Prices: bowls $8 (regular) to $10 (large) plus $1 to $2 for optional ingredients; coconut macaroons, two for $2.50
Social media: facebook.com/MrMongolianNC or Twitter: @MrMongolianNC