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Late Night Eats: Mao's Kitchen

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Most late-night grub benefits mightily from the drunken torpor we're often in when eating at two in the morning. Let's face it--the places that serve food deep into the night are not usually those we patronize when in full command of our senses. And, yet, there are exceptions. Luckily for me (since it's 50 feet from my apartment), Mao's is one of them. Every dish is prepared a la minute and you can tailor your order to suit your taste (vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, tofu instead of pork and, uh, vegan with the sauce on the side!)

The atmosphere at Mao's perfectly reflects its Venice Beach locale: casual, loud and funky. The crowd and staff is typically young, tattooed and cute. While service isn't always too zippy, you don't notice it too much with all the action going on around you. Mao's doesn't serve alcohol which, depending on your perspective, is either a good thing or a bad thing. Frankly, for me, that's usually a good thing after a long night of drinking. No need to contribute further to what's already shaping up to be a fine hangover, right? But on to the food!

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While the orange-ginger chicken ($12) and the fried brown rice with cashews ($7) are superb (and often ordered by yours truly), tonight I decided to go with the curry rice-stick ($10), a Beijing spring roll ($1) and a shrimp and spinach roll ($2). The spring roll is gigantic and still crispy from the fryer. It's a meal in itself and a great buy for only a dollar. The shrimp-spinach roll comes with big hunks of shrimp in it and is livened up nicely by a side of hot mustard. The noodles are perfect hangover cures, larding my belly with so much carbohydrate that I'm certain to sleep well through the night. What's left of my massive portion will make a nice breakfast.

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My companion for the evening strayed from her usual order of hot and sour soup ($3, $6) and lettuce cups ($9). Tonight, she went with the peasant onion pancakes ($5) and the Hong Kong chow mien ($10), both of which I liberally sampled. The pancakes were okay, more naan than pancake but still chewy and filling. The chow mien was better, its bed of crispy fried noodles quickly softened by the thick sauce of beef and vegetables. Unfortunately, the chow mien is not a take-home dish as the noodles turn to mash after a night mixed in with the sauce. Luckily, the bowl full of fortune cookies we helped ourselves to are perfect for taking home.

If you're out carousing in Venice, Santa Monica or the Marina on the weekend be sure to put Mao's on your list of places to eat on the way home. It carries all the dishes you'll find in your typical Chinese restaurant (Kungpao, $10; sweet and sour, $11) plus a few surprises for the adventurous (Qingjiao rousi, $10; Weiwuer lamb, $12). Prices are reasonable and the full menu is available until closing. The best bar action nearby is Nikki's, but expect throngs from Thursday through Sunday. Canal Club and James Beach are also a few blocks away. Lastly, if you can't drive home after feasting at Mao's, a bus stop is right outside.

Mao's Kitchen
1512 Pacific Ave
Venice, CA 90291
310.581.8305
www.maoskitchen.com
Sunday - Thursday: 11:30am - 10:30pm
Friday - Saturday: 11:30am to 3am