Located in the heart of Midtown, Oyunaa’s specializes in authentic Mongolian cuisine.
Current hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 5-8pm (until 8:30pm on Friday and Saturday). Open since 2012, it is casual and family friendly, and a good intimate date night spot with colorful décor and an inviting ambiance. Chef and owner Oyunaa Sophie moved to Santa Cruz from Mongolia in 2005. She says she loves the local culture and considers it a pleasure and honor to bring Mongolian food to the community. She sources all the ingredients herself from local grocers and butchers, and talked to GT recently about her native cuisine.
How would you characterize your Mongolian cuisine?
OYUNAA SOPHIE: It’s all about handmade items that are fresh-to-order, including handmade pasta and handmade dumplings. A lot of people hear Mongolian food and think Mongolian barbecue, but it’s not that. It’s a very simple cuisine. It’s a cold climate in Mongolia, and we use similar ingredients and spices as Russian cuisine. It’s mostly meat-based, with a lot of red meat and homemade pasta and rice. We utilize a lot of root vegetables like beets, potatoes, carrots and cabbage and basic seasonings like onion, garlic and ginger. The food not only has a Russian influence, but also a strong Eastern European influence with a little Chinese influence as well.
What are the house specialties?
I would say our seasoned beef dumplings [buuz] are the most popular; they are steamed, and we also have a pan-fried version of the same dish [khuushuur]. Another traditional dish that people really like is our lamb riblets, which come with rice and our popular carrot and garlic salad. Lamb is very traditional to Mongolian cuisine; we eat it year-round. The riblets are simmered first, then pan-fried with garlic. Our chicken dumpling soup (bansh) is also enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s a very nurturing dish that is savory and satisfying and really just makes people feel good. Mongolians also eat a lot of borscht, which is a root vegetable soup loaded with vitamin C that is very hearty and nutritious. It has beets, carrots, celery, beef and Mongolian seasonings all slow-simmered and finished with a top of sour cream and fresh dill. We do a traditional Russian-style preparation that you won’t find anywhere else; it’s served hot and comes with rye bread.
1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-469-9900, oyunaas.com.