Pulling into an inconspicuous strip mall in the Northside of Long Beach, a large yellow sticker can now be seen in the window of Golden Chinese Express, picturing a cartoon chicken with outstretched wings beneath the words “Shlap Muan.”
This logo could once only be found in San Francisco, but after three years the husband-and-wife team behind the Cambodian-style chicken wing company have brought their brand back home, opening up shop in their family’s restaurant.
Working with his parents in Golden Chinese Express as a kid, Shlap Muan owner Hawk Tea didn’t think that he’d one day be opening his second business location there.
“Growing up I really didn’t want to work in a restaurant. I think it’s just like anybody who worked in a restaurant family– you helped out your parents and stuff like that– and I told myself I’d never own a restaurant but then once we moved up here and the opportunity presented itself I was like ‘okay, it’s now or never.’”
After moving to San Francisco with his wife, Sophia, five years ago, and spending the first two years working in corporate jobs, the pair were ready to make the leap and open Shlap Muan.
“We both were just fed up with the corporate world and we always wanted to become a business owner, we just didn’t know what, and then this opportunity came up to open a restaurant and her and I are like ‘you know let’s just do it, it’s now or never, we’re not gonna have another opportunity.’ So we decided just to quit our jobs and just open the restaurant, basically, chips all in,” Hawk told the Signal Tribune.
The couple’s San Francisco Shlap Muan location has been open for three years, operating out of 50 Post St.
The Tea’s introduced Long Beach to Shlap Muan with a weekend pop up event at Golden Chinese Express in late August, which was met with rave reviews by local foodies such as the Long Beach based and Khmer ran Instagram pages @wheresthafoodat and @suezeats.
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Shlap yo momma good.. but don’t really do it cause she’ll beat your butt.. 😅 [shlap muan literally means chicken wings in Khmer ] got to go to the @shlapmuan pop up this weekend and it was def worth the hypeeeeee! Got the Cambodian dirt dry seasoning and it was the PERFECT amount of sour tangy deliciousness and the sweet and spicy wings. Perfect kick and the garlicky flavor was in poinnnnt! So sad it’s only a pop up. Definitely going to be dreaming about these wings. Oh and I finally got to meet fellow Khmer 🇰🇭 foodies @lbfoodcoma & @where_tha_food_at here too! Pleasure meeting you both ☺️ 📍Long Beach, CA
Shlap Muan announced in late September that it would be coming to Long Beach permanently, with its first soft opening date on Oct. 17.
“We always wanted to do something back home,” Hawk told the Signal Tribune.
Shlap Muan’s current hours of operation at Golden Chinese Express are limited to Friday-Sunday from 11a.m. to 4p.m., with plans to eventually extend into the rest of the week.
Shlap Muan’s menu features wings a la carte as well as in meals, available in 8 different flavors divided evenly into sauces and dry rubs. Sauces include Sweet & Spicy Garlic, Orange Habanero, Spicy Elephant and Water Buffalo, while it’s dry rubs are Cambodian Dirt, Spicy Cambodian Dirt, Pekang and Jalapeno MSG.
“We slowly added on. I think the original flavor was the Sweet & Spicy Garlic, which is the red sauce, and then that came out with the Orange Habanero,” Hawk said about developing Shlap Muan’s menu. “And then just slowly started adding on and then I came up with the Cambodian Dirt, which is our take on lemon pepper. So basically I just wanted to pull some of the flavors I grew up eating, some of that, and just made it into a dry seasoning rather than like a wet sauce. So I added lemongrass rather than just the American version of just the lemon pepper. I wanted that earthy lemongrass taste. That’s why it’s called Cambodian Dirt, because it’s really earthy.”
Another revamped version of a classic wing flavor is the Water Buffalo sauce.
“The water buffalo sauce is actually my interpretation of traditional buffalo sauce. Traditional buffalo sauce is just butter and Frank’s hot sauce. So all the recipes that you see, I basically came up with all the recipes, it’s just my interpretations of different flavors. I’ve always thought that the buffalo sauce was too vinegary, so I wanted to make it more of a mild vinegar flavor and make it a little more creamier.”
Hawk substituted the Frank’s Hot Sauce usually found in buffalo sauce when he came up with Water Buffalo.
“I wanted a creamy sauce rather than a flat sauce. If you take a look at some of the regular buffalo sauces that you get out there, from like Buffalo Wild Wings for example, it’s really buttery and very vinegary. And I wanted to avoid that, so that’s the reason why I decided to come up with my own interpretation of the sauce.”
While Water Buffalo has less of an overt vinegar taste than its traditional counterpart, it remains well balanced and flavorful with a well seasoned orange sauce that slowly builds in heat.
Shlap Muan’s wings don’t just rely on the sauces and seasonings, matching it with quality drums and flats that are tender and juicy to the bite behind crispy exteriors, and often have more meat on them than those found at Pizza Hut or other chains.
A la carte wing orders are offered at four for $5.50, eight for $9.75, 16 for $18 and 24 for $27.
Three meals are also offered on Shlap Muan’s menu. The Filipino Friends meal and the Filipino Grande meal comes with either four or eight wings served with sauce, rice, fried garlic and fried egg. The Dirty Meal includes four wings and fries that have all been tossed in Cambodian Dirt seasoning, along with one sauce of choice.
Whether included with a meal or added a la carte, rice pairs perfectly with Shlap Muan’s wings, acting as a sponge to soak up all the flavors from the sauce and egg yolk.
According to Hawk, Shlap Muan has faced challenges similar to those seen by restaurants across California since the pandemic began, but was well suited to adapt to the new health orders.
“It’s a lot harder because people are weary about eating out. I guess the good thing for us is that our food is meant to be taken out anyways. So I think that’s sort of a blessing in disguise.”
Visit Shlap Muan’s Northside Long Beach location at 2150 E. South St. Long Beach, CA 90805. Follow them on their official Instagram @shlapmuan.