Most Portlanders probably think they've sampled Mongolian food. And most of them are wrong.
Those long-ago-trendy buffet-style Mongolian barbecue places aren't Mongolian at all—the concept was developed by the Taiwanese, who invented a story about Mongolian warriors stir-frying meat on their shields as a way of capitalizing on the love of Japanese Teppanyaki.
If you want to encounter Mongolian food as it's known to actual Mongolians, there's a little red truck at Cartlandia that brings you out to the proverbial yurt on the grassy steppe.
Taste of Mongolia opened in July under the supervision of chef Shysei Gyo. The menu has everything from the rouga bun to chow mein to pepper-sauced chicken with rice.
I was not a fan of the rouga, also called a Chinese hamburger. The same cuts you typically find finely ground in a burger are chopped thick and packed loose, cooling and coming apart on a dense, dry bun that recalls an English muffin. (This is how it's supposed to be, because it was meant for people who were traveling.)
The reason to go see Gyo is the hand-cut noodles and dumplings. Best of all are the dumplings, jiao zi, on the menu, which is entirely in English. Perhaps this is because there are only about 25,000 Mongolian immigrants anywhere in this country, most of whom reside in Denver. Those dumplings are meat-heavy pockets of thin, slippery dough served by the dozen ($9). There are pork and cabbage, beef and carrot and veggie versions available, all of which are hearty and warming on cool winter nights.
You'll also do well with the basil chicken ($8) with handcut noodles. They're short on basil, which would provide welcome spice and color, but the combination of lightly grilled chicken and chewy noodles is deeply satisfying.
Be aware that the spicing and seasoning on everything here tends to be mild, but when you've got chewy hand-cut noodles from a tradition rare on our shores, that's a trade-off I'm happy to make.
GO: Cartlandia, 8145 SE 82nd Ave, Wednesday-Monday noon-9 pm