When Mamak Malaysian opened in Doraville’s Asian Square in 2014, it took little time for the restaurant to establish itself as a standout among the international eateries that line Buford Highway. People clamored for Mamak’s curries, noodles, rice plates and vegetables (okra!) cooked in sambals funked up with shrimp paste.
The success was enough to prompt the owners, Alan Foong and chef Wai Lee Wong, to expand, with two side-by-side sister restaurants in the Magnum Plaza shopping center on Chamblee Tucker Road, near the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. Chom Chom Vietnamese Kitchen debuted last November; Mamak Vegan, a vegetarian spin on Mamak’s greatest hits, opened in February.
It was going pretty well until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “January and February — that was one of the busiest times for restaurants on Buford Highway, because of the Chinese New Year,” manager Emily Kong said. “Come March, right before the lockdown, we were gaining momentum. We gained a good, steady local crowd, but not enough to gain traction to grow the business.”
Initially, Chom Chom transitioned to takeout-only, but, after one week of little-to-no business, it temporarily shut the doors. It finally reopened June 1, but it’s not the same Chom Chom that early patrons will recall. Vietnamese spring rolls, banh mi sandwiches, green papaya salads, bun vermicelli, rice plates and pho have been replaced by dependable Mamak staples. Essentially, it’s a Mamak pop-up at Chom Chom.
While the Mamak menu available for takeout at Chom Chom is abbreviated, the owners hope that the ample interior and patio space there will draw a crowd that thus far has been hesitant to dine out. The clean, modern industrial design (it might remind you of a more subdued version of the Food Terminal space) has seating for 48, under the latest state-mandated guidelines for social distancing. More than a dozen tables are spread out under the covered patio and breezeway.
On-premises diners can order from the Mamak or the Mamak Vegan menu (on which the meat alternatives feature Beyond products). Kong said that many guests are opting to mix and match. And, unlike the original Mamak, there’s a full bar with tiki cocktails and other specialty drinks. (Mamak Vegan is open for takeout and patio dining only.)
Whether Chom Chom’s Vietnamese menu will return remains a question, but Mamak’s reputation for Malay flavors may be its saving grace. The Mamak dining room is closed, because it can seat only three tables under current restrictions. The takeout business there is flourishing, however. Chom Chom could become the new sit-down Mamak, with the original sticking to a carryout-only model, Kong said.
“It’s a lot to figure out,” she said.
Menu: abbreviated menu from Mamak Malaysian; dine-in patrons also can order from full menu of sister restaurant Mamak Vegan
Alcohol: beer and bottled wine to-go, full bar for on-premises dining
What I ordered: chili soft-shell crab, chow kway teow, rendang beef, chili shrimp, mango chicken, sambal okra, eggplant salted fish and chicken. The appetizer of deep-fried soft-shell crab in sweet chili sauce is the only dish from Chom Chom’s original Vietnamese menu. The other items are all Mamak crowd favorites. The chow kway teow is a filling, flavorful and affordable ($10.50) plate of flat rice noodles studded with shrimp, squid, eggs and bean sprouts. The fried shrimp retained its crunch during transit. The rendang beef curry delivered lingering heat, the braised eggplant was meltingly tender and the sambal okra — sautéed to a soft crisp, and tossed in a sauce of shrimp paste, oil and chili paste — is an entrée-worthy veg dish. Portions were generous, including rice with nearly every order, and the prices more than fair.
Service options: order via phone; pickup only, no delivery (sister restaurants Mamak and Mamak Vegan offer delivery via Chowbus); dining room and patio open for on-premises dining
Safety protocols: follows standard guidelines (gloves, all employees wear face coverings, sanitizer, social distancing, self-temperature check for employees); hand sanitizer available to customers throughout the restaurant; masks available to patrons upon request
Address, phone: 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, Chamblee; 470-375-3190
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily; closed Thursdays
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