Over the last few weekends, lines have stretched out the doors of a newly remodeled shop in Plano. Many customers are waiting for soup, but we're not talking about a creamy chowder or spicy bisque. Mango Mango Dessert is serving sweet soups, some cold, some not, for midday snacking or an after-dinner treat.
Some North Texans probably haven't tried sago soup, a style of dessert popular in Asian countries, specifically China. This sweet treat gained instant popularity in Dallas-Fort Worth when Mango Mango opened March 25. It's the company's first shop in Texas.
Early customer enthusiasm indicates it might just be a new "it" sugar rush in D-FW.
And Dallasites love a trendy, creative dessert. Just take Dallas' bakery-laden corner on Preston Road for example: Alluring features like a 24-hour cupcake ATM at Sprinkles and TV-ready personalities behind the cannoli counter at Carlo's Bakery have proved Dallasites' love affair with buzzy treats. Pastry-loving patrons queue up, peer into shop windows and, in the extreme case of Carlo's Bakery, even camp out overnight for a first bite.
But the northern suburbs of Dallas are different. It was not until the last five years or so that the area began fostering thriving a night life outside the Dallas bubble. The 'burbs are great these days.
They're also different from Dallas: Plano, Richardson, Carrollton and other areas north of the big city have long been known for nurturing ethnically diverse communities of East Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern populations. In Plano, where Mango Mango Desserts is located, people who identify as Asian make up close to 20 percent of the population, and on city blocks between State Highway 121 to the north and Legacy Drive to the south, that number is often close to or more than 50 percent, according to Statistical Atlas.
Because of that demographic distinction, broader areas of Collin and Denton counties have developed their own culinary reputation; it's where many immigrants and first- and second-generation Americans have launched restaurants inspired by their cultural heritage, and it's where many in-the-know Dallas foodies go for delicious ethnic cuisine. Yes: In some cases, Dallasites are willing to drive north of LBJ Freeway for the great food in Plano, Richardson, Carrollton and beyond.
Independent restaurants with ties to Asian cultures and heritage have a long history in northern D-FW, but increasingly, larger companies with national and international presence have begun planting locations in the area. Mango Mango Dessert is a prime example.
The company originated in New York's Chinatown in 2013 and has since spread through that city's boroughs and into New Jersey. Placing a new store in Plano seems like a savvy decision. It's the company's first move out of the northeastern United States, and the shop sits in a budding area that hosts stores like Jusgo Supermarket, 99 Ranch Market, Daiso Japan and the recently opened Mitsuwa Marketplace.
Sandy Hua's family owns and operates the Mango Mango Dessert franchise in Plano. She says they've traveled often and appreciate the delicious and diverse food culture in New York City. When they decided to open a business, Mango Mango seemed like the perfect fit.
"We wanted to bring in something really different to the area," she says.
The company calls its methods and menu "Hong Kong style."
"Hong Kong is a very forward-thinking city and it is generally a little more open to Western influences," she says.
She's on to something important. Like so many places, Hong Kong has a long and complex history with British colonialism. Since 1997, it has functioned as an autonomous territory with one of the freest economies in the world, a fact that further complicates its identity. It is tethered to, but significantly distinct from, mainland Chinese culture.
In the context of desserts, Hua says Hong Kong-style dishes and those throughout Chinese cuisine aren't as sugary as what you'd find in American bakeries and sweet shops. Fruit takes center stage in a lot of recipes, with its natural sweetness balanced by varying degrees of tartness.
Sago soups are served chilled or hot. Most have a coconut milk base that, when cold, has a texture similar to shaved ice. The menu features a wide variety of flavors and combinations with ingredients like sweet red bean paste, black glutinous rice balls and -- you guessed it -- mango.
The shop also serves ice cream sundaes, as well as crepes, pancakes and waffles with a range of delectable toppings like Nutella, strawberries and blueberries.
For those more familiar with Asian cuisine -- or wanting to try something new -- there are dishes with mochi, lychee and durian, a spiky fruit known for its delicious taste and controversial odor. It can be a "love it or leave it" food, and those who love it tend to think of durian as a delicacy, one that can be hard to find in North Texas.
Overall, Hua says the shop aims to offer a taste for people of any age, kids included. The restaurant's finish is modern and hip, with a boutique feel. The food fills out a lengthy menu, with varying degrees of sophistication. Grown-up tastes, for example, might appreciate Mo Mo Cha Cha -- that's a hot, sweet soup with yam and sweet potato -- or the smoky flavor of grass jelly. Kids such as Hua's young son might find a new favorite among the shop's smoothie-style drinks. He loves the mango slush-o drink, she says, and she likes that he's eating more fruit.
Mango Mango Dessert isn't the only new shop serving options with Asian origins on that strip. Next door, prolific international chain Gong Cha USA opened on March 29. It was the Taiwan-based bubble tea company's third location in Texas, with other locations soon following in Richardson and Carrollton.
The Plano shop's manager, Jack Chan, has spent more than a dozen years in the food industry -- his background includes training with a master sushi chef in New York -- but he respects the care and quality he sees in Gong Cha. There are strict protocols to follow every day, he says, and his team takes them seriously.
But most of all, he says, he loves the creativity involved in the drinks he serves. Bubble tea and coffee offer customization in virtually every way, from sweetness and ice to add-ons like the tapioca pearls or "bobas" that give the drinks their distinct style.
Bubble tea shops aren't new to North Texas, but it is interesting to see companies with Gong Cha's global reach spreading into the area. When 85C Bakery opened in Carrollton last summer, it had an imperfect nickname, "the Starbucks of Taiwan."
That's an acknowledgment of the chain's rapid growth, though company reps push back against the brand comparison, emphasizing their food and drink's quality.
As with Mango Mango, Texas was one of the first places 85C Bakery looked once it decided to expand further into the United States. Its first American location in Irvine, Calif., still draws long lines, and it's been open almost a decade.
Another hot commodity in the cold dessert game is rolled ice cream, which originated in Thailand and has been a hit on the coasts since about 2015. It found its way to D-FW last summer first at Orchid City Fusion Cafe in Arlington.
The craze found a natural home here, where balmy temperatures rarely drop below "ice cream weather," and already, lines have snaked out the doors, with patrons eager for an Instagram shot of the frilly, beautifully presented rolls. Now, a national player has dropped a franchise in North Texas. A new location of I-CE NY opened in Carrollton on April 11. Eater Dallas had that scoop back in February. A second North Texas location was recently announced; it's expected in mid-July in Garland.
So, is it reasonable to wonder if Asian desserts could be called a new food trend in D-FW?
Kind of, but here's an important consideration: Just as clam chowder tastes different in Boston and Manhattan, Asian cuisine means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
What's clear, though, is that large-scale companies with Asian ties have taken notice of North Texas, and locals seem to like it.