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boulder: zoe ma ma

Long-time readers and basically anyone who has been around me for more than five minutes know how I have bemoaned the utter lack of decent Chinese food in Boulder, Colorado. That is part of the reason you find so many Chinese recipes on this blog – because I can’t get the real stuff where I live unless I make it myself. But hold on there, pilgrim! Ma Ma has come to the rescue.

and you can find her on pearl street

Zoe Ma Ma is a newish Chinese restaurant that opened in 2010 on 10th and Pearl Streets in downtown Boulder. I first noticed it on my way to my favorite sushi bar, which is right next door (Sushi Tora). I looked at the menu with anticipation and suspicion. I’ve had my hopes dashed to the ground countless times in Boulder before. I wondered if this would be any different. When my parents were visiting and we walked past Zoe Ma Ma, my mother looked up at the Chinese characters and said, “Oh! Zoe Ma Ma. Looks interesting.” So right, it’s not Zoe as in zo-ee, but Zoe as in zoh. But everyone calls her Ma Ma. When customers enter, they say “Hi, Ma Ma!” and when they leave they wave “Bye, Ma Ma!” or “Thank you, Ma Ma!” Sometimes you’ll even hear it spoken in Chinese. Yes, the Chinese people in Boulder (all three of them… I’m JOKING!) dine here. That’s a good sign.

this is ma ma

It’s a small restaurant with seating for about 25 people inside and another 8-10 at the bar outside when the weather is nice. I know for a fact if you go right at noon, it can be quite busy. I’ve seen the bar lined with diners happily slurping their noodles as the steam dances up into the sunlight. Walk up to the counter to place your order. Depending on the day of the week, you can also choose the special. On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday you can get a big bowl of Sichuan braised beef noodle soup. On Wednesday and Thursday they serve savory pork belly zong zi (think of it as a Chinese tamale made with pearl rice). Friday and Saturday’s special is roast duck and wonton soup.

ma ma serves homemade organic noodles

I was curious. Very curious. The menu items looked more like the homestyle food I grew up eating and loving rather than the deep-fried, day glo sauce-drowned abominations of the typical Chinese restaurants around town. When I introduced myself to Ma Ma, we spoke in Mandarin and shared our paths. That’s what all Chinese people do when they meet. “Where are you from?” And that, for me, means “Where are your parents from?” because when I say I was born in the U.S. they (they = any Chinese person, especially immigrants) immediately ask if my parents came from China or Taiwan.

jason and i sampled the menu for lunch one day

Ma Ma is a tiny woman, a warm smile. She busily prepares and serves food behind the counter and greets customers as they enter the restaurant. Like ANY Chinese mother, she wants to feed you and make sure you get enough to eat. She sometimes sneaks a soy sauce egg into your container or bowl. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a screw-top tupperware with me whenever I know I’m going to Zoe Ma Ma because the portions are generous. While I haven’t tried every item on the menu, I have been working my way through – although it’s hard to do when the first dish I tried has become my favorite.

i am a noodle girl: sichuan braised beef noodle soup

Homestyle Chinese cooking involves fresh vegetables, slow-cooked meats or tofu in heady broths kissed with spices, good quality noodles or rice, and care. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have a place other than my own home to go and grab a hearty bite of good Chinese food. I trust Ma Ma to use the best ingredients too. The beef in the beef noodle soup isn’t full of gristle or fat. The chicken in her Chicken and Potatoes on Rice (“CPR”) is lean and flavorful (she uses chicken thigh – a woman after my own heart!). Bright, crisp vegetables grace dishes like za jiang mien, a favorite Taiwanese noodle dish with ground pork meat sauce. The homemade noodles have a wonderful texture.

the “cpr” – chicken and potatoes on rice

zong zi wrapped in bamboo leaves

Zoe Ma Ma’s food is wholesome. No MSG. These are not dishes that get slapped together, dunked in a deep-fryer, and buried under sugar and cornstarch. Chinese potstickers, zong zi, Sichuan braised beef noodle soup, CPR, bao (steamed pork buns), all require time and love to make and to develop good flavor. They also offer gluten-free options and an assortment of teas, Izzes, beer, and wine.

I wasn’t disappointed and I don’t think you will be either. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth a stop. And be sure to say hi to Ma Ma when you’re there.

get your chinese comfort food fix

Zoe Ma Ma
2010 10th Street
Boulder, CO 80302
Ph: (303) 545 MAMA (6262)
Twitter: @Zoe_Ma_Ma
Facebook: Zoe Ma Ma Facebook Page

Full Disclosure: No comps for the chomps.

23 nibbles at “boulder: zoe ma ma”

  1. Margie says:

    This is a ‘have-to-do’…. (Pearl and 10th are old stomping grounds from my childhood!)

    The flavors sound amazing, and the freshness, no MSG, ring my bells, too. I love that chicken legs are her choice. I’ve always preferred dark meat over white. I find it more flavorful.

  2. Rachel says:

    If you say so, I really must go.

  3. Bing Chou says:

    I’ve been many, many times in the short history of Zoe Ma Ma. I’ve never once been disappointed. Incredibly nice service, great food (better than my ma ma makes), and dishes that reflect what my mother made in the home. It’s honestly my favorite place to eat in Boulder.

  4. Janet says:

    Jen, I bet you could trade her some of these photos for some free food… Just sayin’…

    I walked right past this place last week, and wondered. Now I have to go. Thanks for the rec.

  5. Katie says:

    Thanks for the recommdation! Its hard to keep track of which new restaurants on Pearl St. are worth the money (and almost as important – the time!) to try out.

  6. Shanon says:

    I have tried many of recommendations and never been disappointed. Although, I like Chez Thuy, there isn’t another Asian restaurant in Boulder that I have been to more than once. And Asian is my favorite! I am so excited to try this.

  7. Twila M says:

    All of my family lives in Colorado and I’m all the way off in Montana (though I love it). Your Boulder restaurant posts always make me want to visit – though I don’t think I’d have time to try them all anyhow. And I think it would be hard not to put the Kitchen at the top – those communal dinners you have there look amazing. Though real Chinese food does too…We certainly don’t have that in Montana. Enjoy it for all of us!

  8. Denise says:

    I’ve seen this place and have been curious! I can’t wait to try it. Btw, I understand your exact sentiments, but with Italian food. With the exception of Frasca, you won’t find me eating Italian out in Boulder.

  9. Erin says:

    Ooooh I know exactly where that is! The next time I am in Boulder, I will have to go there!

  10. Cathy says:

    Okay, so this is hilarious because in Cupertino there is a Chen Ma Ma which is really similar to what you described- people call the owner Chen Ma Ma, and it serves Taiwanese homestyle food. But I guess the idea is not as novel when it is in the context of Cupertino. :) I guess this is the trend right now!

  11. Gali says:

    That looks so good! Now I just have to plan a trip to Boulder… so many trips to plan and yet still a PhD to finish.

  12. kathy says:

    Everything looks super delicious, and Ma Ma looks so sweet! I hope her restaurant flourishes.

  13. Cookin Canuck says:

    It has been a long time since I’ve been to Boulder, but have been wanting to make a trip back. You give such a wonderful description of the food, atmosphere and Ma Ma that I am putting this post straight into my travel file.

  14. renee says:

    OOoo! Next time we’re up there we’re going to have to check it out. Gluten free options at a Chinese restaurant? That’s rare, except for good ole PF Chang’s…(!) And my white-boy husband loves to pull his Mandarin out and surprise the Chinese ladies.

  15. Lily G says:

    Oh my goshhh…I’m craving for those food…
    This summer we’ll be going to Yellowstone National Park, and will go trough COlorado, too. I will for sure stop by Boulder and will not pass Ma Ma’s food…

  16. audra says:

    YES!! you may or may not remember that i wrote to you a couple summers ago when i moved to Boulder for a dog training apprenticeship.. i’m from NJ where Chinese food abounds and i was looking for recommendations for “home food” in the area (i don’t *actually* expect you to remember, that was a while ago and you get a lot of people writing to you, i’m sure!). you were right, the Chinese fare in Boulder sucked, but i am so excited to try this place! boyfriend and i *might* be moving back to CO by the end of this year for his grad school, and i am happy to know there will be a Chinese option for when i get homesick. =] thanks for the info, as always!

  17. Shelly says:

    I’ve been craving Ma Ma’s bao for weeks! So yummy. I could eat them every day. My husband works just around the corner from Zoe Ma Ma. I may have to send him over to bring some home for me.

  18. ma ma inlaw says:

    Next time we visit this is a must.

  19. Trolleira says:

    Oh my, now I am hungry! Does she serve Jao zi, panfried ones? And where is she from? Looking on the red sauce of one of the pictures, maybe Hunan??

    We are so looking for a genuine chinese restaurant here in Brazil, what we found in Sao Paulo is near, but not quite original. Maybe one day I can go to Zoh Ma Ma?

  20. Annie says:

    I grew up in Boulder (many moons ago!) and my first taste of Chinese food was the Kung Pao Chicken at Lee Huan’s Burger Hut on Baseline road. In case you missed it, it was a burger joint by day and turned into a Chinese restaurant after 5 pm. The Boulder food scene has clearly come up quite a bit in the world!

  21. knitopia says:

    Thank you! My husband can’t wait to try the beef noodle soup now!

  22. Mrs Ergül says:

    I’m so happy for you Jen! It must be really satisfying finding a treasure like this!

  23. jenyu says:

    Bing Chou – Ma Ma is such a dear woman, I adore her. However, I have to say my own Ma Ma (and also my Po Po) makes the best Chinese food. Of course, I’m biased ;)

    Janet – yeah, that’s not how I roll.

    Denise – oh, how I love Frasca!

    audra – great news! Fingers crossed.

    Trolleira – yes, she serves potstickers (guo tieh). She’s from Taiwan :)

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