Happy Dragon Mongolian BBQ is a rival to fast-food
New owners are breathing energy back into Southern Oregon’s decades-old “Mongolian barbecue” format.
Happy Dragon is the new identity of Medford Center’s Mongolian BBQ, which has operated for the past year under that name. My wariness of buffets has only been affirmed during the coronavirus pandemic, but the restaurant’s perfect sanitation score on its latest inspection by the Jackson County health department convinced me it deserved a try.
Items gathered from Happy Dragon’s self-serve spread are intended to be cooked, which should neutralize pathogens of any kind. Although I trust health inspectors’ endorsement, I still sanitized my hands from Happy Dragon’s complimentary bottle as soon as I handed the grill cook my stir-fry components.
There are a couple of considerations for Happy Dragon customers. The first is ordering a single plate, or all you can eat — at first blush an odd choice, given the identical price ($13.95). But leftovers from all-you-can-eat meals may not be taken home, and splitting all-you-can-eat plates is not allowed.
Because I craved as much variety as Happy Dragon could offer, I opted for unlimited trips, although I anticipated three at the most. Steamed rice is included in the all-you-can-eat price. My partner was game for the same, and we both tacked on a glass ($2.95) of “strawberry lemonade bliss,” described as lightly carbonated lemonade with strawberry syrup.
Sauce is a major component of each meal. I told my partner — by way of explaining the restaurant — that diners should go against their instincts and add much more sauce than appears reasonable. Indeed, signs on the buffet recommend infusing a full bowl of sauce into the finished dish.
Those include the obvious soy, peanut and teriyaki sauces, along with sesame oil. But there’s also “dragon fire” and “Pistol Pete’s chile infusion.” I planned my dishes with a straightforward stir-fry sauce for noodles and a coconut-curry sauce with rice.
But first, diners choose produce and proteins. While the former are sliced and diced into large pieces, the latter are finely shredded to ensure thorough cooking. The most recognizable was tofu, offered in large cubes, contrasting with shavings of chicken, pork and beef that were nearly indistinguishable without their labels.
The classic stir-fry noodle beckoned over a slightly thicker type resembling udon. I portioned fairly pedestrian broccoli florets, sliced carrots, bamboo shoots and baby corn into my bowl, along with tofu. I looked in vain for water chestnuts and mushrooms and skipped over large slices of onions, celery and scallions, heaping my bowl high with noodles.
For the sauce, I mixed soy, lemon water, oyster-garlic, sweet vinegar, sesame oil and two good ladlesful of “dragon fire.”
Preparing stir-fry at home over the years informed my selections. For anyone less confident, Happy Dragon suggests several signature sauce combinations: traditional, Thai, Asian fusion and sweet and tangy.
Diners have an up-close view of the cooking process, courtesy of the massive round griddle that occupies a prominent spot near the restaurant’s entrance. Hand the cook bowls of ingredients and sauce and watch as two long spatulas spread, stir and scrape the food over the searing hot surface. I noted that neither water nor lids were used to steam the food, returned to diners after several minutes on a clean plate.
My meal reminded me of the stir-fry ubiquitous to fair and carnival food stands — exactly what I was going for. Although I enjoyed the crisp-tender texture of all the vegetables, the noodles weren’t quite done enough for my tastes. Spritzing them with some water on the griddle would have loosened up the strands and somewhat thinned out my sauce, which verged on too salty. Given the squeeze bottle of water within the cook’s reach, I think the request would be justified.
I managed to polish off almost the entire plate of noodles before assembling my next dish. This time, I scooped up sliced red and green cabbage, spinach leaves, chopped zucchini and pineapple tidbits, adding just a few large rings of jalapeno. My sauce combined soy, peanut and curry sauces, coconut milk and more “dragon fire.”
Little did I suspect the curry sauce on its own would be plenty spicy for the average diner. No, it wasn’t the jalapeno. The addition of “dragon fire” elevated the burn to a level I never expected from a DIY endeavor.
My only regret is there wasn’t more sauce to pool over the rice and moisten the grains. Next time, I’ll go back for another bowl of spicy peanut-curry-coconut elixir.
Despite his efforts to approximate a “sweet and sour” chicken with onion, bell pepper and pineapple, my partner lamented his dish wasn’t as sweet as he’d expect from most restaurant menus. That’s because there’s no vat of simple syrup — sugar — among the seasonings, I told him.
Sodium aside, Happy Dragon is a more wholesome version of Asian fare than many establishments prepare, particularly those relying on meat’s mainstream appeal, relegating veggies to supporting roles. A bit more vegetable diversity and seasonality would go even farther, in my estimation. But Happy Dragon nicely fills its niche for a price that rivals fast-food.
Lunchtime trims $2 from the usual per-person cost. And kids 10 years and younger can take one trip through the buffet for $7.95.
Located at 975 Medford Center, Happy Dragon is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, until 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Order takeout at happydragonbbq.com or call 541-282-5490.
Bikes and beers are a dual draw Wednesday in downtown Medford.
Common Block Brewing Co. plans to host certified instructors with the League of American Bicyclists for a free session about basic bike maintenance and skills. Perfect for beginners, the outdoor event from 5 to 7 p.m. is in partnership with Rogue Valley Transportation District, in concert with Oregon’s Get There Challenge.
Experts will perform free safety checks, and participants can socialize with other cyclists. Bring your bike, helmet, outdoor garb and gear — and your appetite.
Common Block is at 315 E. Fifth St. See commonblockbrewing.com
See more about RVTD events at rvtd.org and this year’s Get There Challenge at getthereoregon.org/challenge
Talent’s Simple Machine Winery & Tasting Room is poised to welcome back the public next week.
The business at 717 S. Pacific Highway, which was destroyed in the Almeda fire, announced its return to regular operating hours Wednesday after a “surprise” reopening last week to toast the winery’s reconstruction. The tasting menu featured 2020 Rose and 2020 ‘Leverage.’
The wildfire that burned from Ashland through Talent and Phoenix Sept. 8, 2020, also consumed four Simple Machine vintages. Its first new red wine, 2020 Zinfandel, will be released Wednesday to fete the winery’s comeback.
Reopening comes with very limited menus and seating, according to Simple Machine’s social media posts. Wine service will be outdoors only. Masks are required at all times indoors.
See simplemachinewine.com. Call 541-897-0366.
A Medford Latin fusion restaurant has closed its doors — for now.
Xilakil operated for nearly three years at 1361 Center Drive, initially as a counter-service establishment evoking Chipotle. The restaurant shifted its focus about two years ago to serving cocktails in an updated atmosphere, but acknowledged on social media the challenges it faced to stay in business.
Restaurant representatives hinted on its Instagram account at a “new project” in the works.
The following restaurants in September received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:
Abby’s Legendary Pizza, Central Point; Abby’s Legendary Pizza, Rogue River; Angelo’s Pizza Parlor, Medford; Blue Toba, Ashland; Burger King No, 5164, South Riverside Avenue, Medford; ‘C’ St. Bistro, Jacksonville; Carl’s Jr. No. 8025, Eagle Point; The Chicken Shanty, Eagle Point; Crackin’ & Stackin’, Eagle Point.
The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp.
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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.