Mongolian BBQ: Choose Your Own Genghis Khan Stir Fry Adventure

***”Mongolian BBQ Chile Caliente” was formerly known as Gengis’s House. First, they had a Recoleta, then moved downtown to Alem. Today, they are in Palermo Soho. 

NEW PALERMO LOCATION –> El Salvador 5090, Palermo Soho

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Mongolian BBQ is one hell of a concept. It certainly didn’t originate from Mongolia, and it’s not exactly traditional barbecue, but it’s positively delightful to eat: a big bowl packed with self service choices of vegetables, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, rice, noodles, picante, garlic and sauces and stir fried on a massive bad ass round iron griddle. Fresh, super healthy and packed with bright flavors, Mongolian BBQ is a banging addition to the scarce world of healthy (and good tasting) Buenos Aires restaurants.

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The concept, space, and menu are all bizarre: “Chile Caliente Mongolian BBQ – Gravy, Curry and Cheese Coffee-Shop.” A whole lotta WTFs would normally cross my mind if I walked by and didn’t already know that the food was good. The main event is the Mongolian BBQ, a DIY salad bar where you stack your veggies, and then the grillers stir fry it a la vista with rice or noodles. But they also serve curry, and POUTINE, and coffee, and medialunas and tostados, and have WIFI, all loudly advertised on the outside door.. right next to the tiny kiosco shared space.

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The onda isn’t exactly what you’d expect in a Mongolian BBQ. The space looks like a regular BA café, except with a giant iron griddle in the middle of the restaurant, a salad bar, and a massive painting of Genghis Khan overseeing the main dining area. A similar look to the previous restaurant, minus the mini faux-garden, they still had the TVs on blasting and most of the customers ordering café con medialunas. I’m very tempted to pull a Seinfeld-Babu Bhatt and encourage them to ditch the cafeteria eats and go strictly Mongolian.

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Back in the day I used to pile drive my plate high at Stir Crazy or abuse the unlimited make-your-own stir fry at Flat Top Grill, but I had never heard of the Mongolian BBQ concept before checking out Gengis’s‘s’s’s’s. They all share a similar idea: you choose your own meats, vegetables and sauces, and then watch as a grill master stir-fries away right before your bedroom eyes.

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The owner, Nicolas Sena, spent time working in a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in California and leaped to fill the BA niche. Mongolian BBQ didn’t really originate in Mongolia, and, instead, it began in Taiwan before later spreading to other countries around the world. (I won’t explain the details of the origins of Mongolian BBQ, since there’s a place on the internet called Wikipedia where you can read all about this food’s history).

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So here’s how you do it: grab a bowl and add your fillings. They offer about 10 standard toppings to choose from – nothing too crazy, yet it was all pretty much fresh AKA no wilting, sad, limp, brown-edged rejects. I wish the broccoli wasn’t pre-steamed (gets mushy) and they’d bring back the pineapple, but tofu is available, score with soja. Mushrooms are too, score with shrooming.

Start with the meat, you can choose from beef (res), chicken or pork. There’s also tofu and some suspicious looking seafood. Warning: the meat comes in odd-shaped curled frozen cylinders. I’ve never seen meat in this state before, so my first time I didn’t include much in my bowl – I thought it was going to be a weird texture. (Fast forward to the result: I was totally wrong and ended up stealing beef, pork, and chicken pieces from my food partner’s bowl.)

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The BEFORE shot. I had to remind myself that it’s not about how many different vegetables you add, it’s how you play the game. Words of wisdom: LESS VARIETY IS MORE. But don’t be shy with your piling – you’ll be sorry later if you are a wimp in the food line. Size matters. I tried to stack it higher, but the brotes came tumbling down.

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Look at those two hopeless romantics, it’s destiny waiting to happen.

Next comes the sauce part – they don’t have a massive selection, but there’s some garlic something, soy sauce algo and spicy kick. I obviously asked for THE WORKS (all three sauces). And make sure to get some extra special jalapeño salsa picante on the side, which is similar to a homemade Sriracha sauce.

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Then you choose your carb: white rice, rice noodles, semolina noodles, or rotini (don’t choose the rotini). ORRR you can be a total snooze fest and get white rice on the side.

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On to the grill top it goes. A huge advantage of this type of stir fry, as opposed to a Chinese wok, is that they use water on the griddle instead of oil. The plate of greatness doesn’t come out greasy, and won’t make your mouth nauseously numb with MSG.

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Of course I gotta get it extra picante.

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PROOF.

It only takes a few minutes to cook the goods. Grillman Nicolas gives it a few mixes, tosses, turns, poses for the camera, adds the carb and pours some water on top for a last minute stir fry.

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Annnnnnd we’re off.

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If Stir Crazy/Flat Top me back in the day could see me now! I used to make onion-frenzied noodle choices, now I showed restraint with simple rice and a sensible mix of veggies.

My partner in eating had a solid semolina noodle dish, and didn’t notice that I stole the meat off his plate.

Despite the odd decor, name choice, and random menu decisions, Mongolian BBQ has the potential to break from the old school Argie café ways, stick to the Mongol roots, and basque in Khan’s glory of solid, healthy, casual food.

Update: You’d think this concept would be ideal for the downtown lunch crowd – which was one of the reasons it moved in the first place from the Recoleta location. But in my short time eating lunch, many Argies walked in, puzzled by the concept shook their heads in disbelief, and either sat down for a coffee and medialuna, or walked out. I urged Nicolas to move to Palermo, assuring him he will have more success. “There’s foreigners!” “Palermo is more open to this type of restaurant!” “Palermo is the place for you!” “In Palermo, you’ll be an instant hit!” But this Mongolian BBQ moved to Palermo, and still suffers from lack of clientele. I truly feel like Jerry Seinfeld insisting Babu serve only Pakastani. I’m seriously a very, very bad (wo)man.

Mongolian BBQ Chile Caliente
 (Formerly Gengis’s House on Riobamba in Recoleta and Alem in the Centro)
El Salvador 5090, Palermo
Tel. 4315-1517
Mon – Fri: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm; Sat: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm; Sun: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Average price: ARS$150

EAT IT:

Comments

Comments

  1. says

    Just went to the Alem location for the second time in a month. The current price is $64, which is just under 5 USD at the current blue rate. The rate in blue dollars is likely to be a lot more stable than the peso price.

    While the new location is much dingier and much more confusing (poutine on the menu?), the griller is the same and the food is 90% as good as when it was in Recoleta. I had a mountain of chicken, beef, spinach, tomato, mushroom, pineapple, green pepper, and the yellow semolina pasta today topped with the standard sauces plus hot, plus ginger, plus the sweet sauce they put on the table.

    They’ve even added chorizo, which I’ll try next time, and mussels to the meat options. My date said the mussels were bitter.

    I also got a ginger, mint lemonade, which was delicious for $30 (2.25 USD.)

    I highly recommend this place if, for some awful reason, you find yourself in microcentro during the day.

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