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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ah-Ma's Taiwanese Kitchen (Midtown)

Toddler Foodie Rating:  3 out of 5 Gummy Bears

:) = Great location near Piedmont Park, in the same plaza as Trader Joe's.  Wide selection of tasty Taiwanese street food, mostly served as small plates so you can order and taste multiple dishes.  Artistic, hip décor that makes you feel like you're eating a fancy meal, not "street food."  Friendly service.  

:( = No high chairs or changing tables.  The food is a little pricier than other local restaurants offering similar dishes, and servings are smaller.  If you're looking for an inexpensive, hearty, family-style Asian meal, go to Buford Highway.  Also, there's no dessert menu. 

"We're really serious about our sticky rice."
When we heard about Ah-Ma's, a restaurant right next to Piedmont Park serving Taiwanese street food, we jumped at the chance to try it.  We're big fans of Taiwanese food and were excited about not having to drive to Buford Highway or Pleasant Hill Road to get it.  Not to mention we were excited to have an opportunity to stop by Trader Joe's after our dinner.  Two fun outings in one!      
We arrived at Ah-Ma's hungry and ready to try some new dishes.  When we walked in, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Ah-Ma's interior is trendy and modern, with artistic Asian-inspired décor on the walls and booths accentuated with (what Daddy said were) hand-welded metal backs.  This was definitely not the look we expected of a restaurant selling street food.
Interior of Ah-Ma's.
Photo credit:
The staff gave us a friendly greeting when we arrived, but disappointingly told us they didn't have any high chairs.  Mommy took us to wash our hands and found that the restrooms, though gorgeously decorated, also did not have a changing table.  We started to wonder whether Ah-Ma's is really meant for little diners - and, we get it, some restaurants are not and do not want to be.  But the restaurant wasn't crowded at that time, so we decided to press on and try some food.    
Mommy and Daddy ordered an array of dishes off the "Snacks" section of the menu:  sticky rice (served with pork, dried baby shrimp, black mushrooms, and drizzled with a sweet and slightly spicy chili sauce), fried pig ears, and sweet potato balls (tapioca and sweet potato mashed together, rolled into little balls, and fried, then sprinkled with a salty mixture - imagine a chewy sweet potato fry in ball form). 
Sweet potato balls.
Photo taken by 2-year-old Toddler Foodie.
Taiwanese-style fried pig ears.
Photo taken by 2-year-old Toddler Foodie.
Our unanimous favorite of all these "snacks" was the fried pig ears.  They were coated with the light, salt-and-pepper seasoned breading that's common in fried Taiwanese dishes; but the breading wasn't overly seasoned so that the deep flavor of the pig ear could shine through.    

"Who would have thought a pig's ear could be so yummy?"
After trying some "Snacks," we decided to explore the back page of the menu which includes Ah-Ma's handmade bao (steamed buns) and "Large Plates."  We ordered the beef and pork belly bao, along with a bowl of the beef noodle soup off the "Large Plates" menu.  To ensure we got some veggies in our meal, we ordered the "Vegetable of the Day," which happened to be Chinese broccoli - one of our all-time favorites. 

Left to right:  Stir fried Chinese broccoli, pork belly bao, beef bao.
Beef noodle soup.
We liked everything we ordered, but we were especially fond of the beef bao and Chinese broccoli.  There's no denying that Ah-Ma's cooks know what they're doing when they're making those steamed buns.  They were the perfect texture (soft but firm enough to hold up against the juicy fillings inside) and flavor (just a little bit sweet).  The filling in the beef bao stood out because of its extraordinary blend of flavors and textures - tender, earthy beef; crisp, sour pickled onions; leafy, aromatic cilantro.  The Chinese broccoli was just as flavorful, cooked perfectly (the stalks were firm and the leaves were bright green), and beautifully plated.

"Ignore my bed head.  Focus on this amazing bao I'm devouring."
"My hair always looks good.  But I guess this Chinese broccoli is pretty good-looking, too."
The pork belly bao and beef noodle soup were good, too; and we would definitely recommend trying them.  We could only eat a few bites of the noodle soup because the broth was a little spicy.  Another note about the bao: each order of bao comes with only one bun, and the buns aren't huge.  Prepare to order multiple baos if you're really hungry.

So, here's our final word on Ah-Ma's:  is the food good?  Yes!  Is the food worth the price?   Sure, considering the location (but, again, don't come here expecting a huge family-style meal).  Is Ah-Ma's kid-friendly?  Well... maybe.  We definitely didn't get the feeling that we weren't welcome; but the lack of high chairs and changing tables, and the overall feel of the restaurant's interior, suggest otherwise.  We're thinking Ah-Ma's is a good place to visit with a group of grown-up friends or for a low-key date night.  But, if you're in the area with your littles and are craving fried pig ears or bao, don't shy away from visiting this spot.  Just make sure to bring your own baby seat.

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