Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. You can mix all the ingredients you desire and when it’s cooked you can fish it out with what seems like a guppy catcher I remember from 3rd grade. The food is spicy so make sure you know your limit. It’s a great off the beaten track stop, if you’ve spent the day at the zoo or the Ocean Beach, and my kids adored it!!