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Distant Dishes


Too many restaurants to count pepper their menus with “like mama used to make,” a phrase no doubt meant to evoke warm memories of dishes that graced your childhood. My mother is from El Paso, Texas, so I’ve never understood what I was supposed to glean from a menu that touted perogies or sausages or matzah ball soup “like mama used to make.”

But Zoe Ma Ma’s menu, “inspired by my mother’s love,” seems to transcend what your mother or my mother actually made for us. It doesn’t matter that my mother wasn’t Chinese and never made me dim sum or noodles, because I can taste the home-cooked quality in the dishes this restaurant serves up.

Zoe Ma Ma’s space, just off Pearl Street on 10th, is tiny, cramped and, in the heart of summer, hot. But it feels all the more authentic for it. The tables inside have Chinese newspapers and ads shellacked to the tops, and you will feel inclined to become well acquainted with your neighbors. Patrons order at the counter and pick up their meals as they are ready, dousing dumplings and soups with any of several house-made condiments.

My companion and I ordered a smorgasbord of dim sum and entrees. The menu is brief, and curated rather than curtailed. We started with an order of original potstickers, made with pork, shrimp, garlic chives and vegetables and an order of bao filled with marinated pork. The potstickers were slow in arriving, and as an apology, the wait staff offered us two extra, which more than made up for the delay to my mind, as they were excellent, piping hot and sumptuously savory.

Likewise, the bao were light, fluffy and extraordinarily flavorful. It’s clear that while the menu is short, none of the items are short on flavor.

For an entrée, my companion ordered the “CPR,” a dish of chicken and potatoes stewed in an aromatic gravy and served over rice. This is definitely not Americanized Chinese food and is all the better for it. In fact, this dish alone makes me believe the menu’s claims that these recipes are approved by Ma Ma. Rich and complex, the sauce was vaguely reminiscent of a curry and blended beautifully with potatoes and rice to sop up every drop of flavor and chicken that melted in the mouth.

I went with the Friday special, the roast duck wonton soup and was richly rewarded for the choice. An entire leg of roast duck floated in an enormous bowl of rich duck broth studded liberally with fresh vegetables and wispy, delicate wontons. As a fan of wonton soup regardless, I was in heaven. As a bonus, this was a bowl more than big enough to share—though you might have to fight over the duck leg.

Plus, with all-natural meats, cage-free eggs, organic flour and homemade noodles, Zoe Ma Ma certainly fits the Boulder aesthetic as well. High-quality ingredients plus delicious family-style dishes seem to be an easy recipe for success.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google