Monday, December 19, 2011

[HOT LIST] Chinese restaurants

Lucky Dragon. Photo by VATO.

It's almost Christmas. That means it's almost time to come up with a clever excuse to leave your in-laws' house early and go take refuge in your favorite local Chinese restaurant. (Those of you who don't understand this must actually like your families. Freaks.) Many people this weekend will be seeking solace in the company of our Chinese-American friends, with their tinkling mandolin music, folding screens with pastel images of bonsai trees, statues of Buddha in jade and gold leaf, gongs and goldfish tanks. It's an anti-tradition tradition for many, observed by both Gentiles and Jews (who still need to eat on Christmas).

Regarding Chinese cuisine, if you use the word "authentic" I will punch you in your face. I will track you down to your office where you sit, drinking your bad office coffee brewed in the industrial coffeemaker in the shared kitchen with garish fluorescent lighting, surreptitiously listening in on your co-workers' conversation in the adjacent row of cubes and storing away those little gossip goose eggs for lunch with your recently-divorced friend in Accounts Payable, insisting you simply can't eat another cookie but oh-so-reluctantly shoveling two more in your mouth when the Administrative Assistant comes around with a plate, there I will find you and punch you in your face. You are not Chinese, from the country of the People's Republic of China. You have not even been to China. All you know about what "authentic" Chinese food actually is came from your friend of a friend who knows an actual Chinese person who said their Chinese food is nothing like ours. Shut up.*§

#1 Wok Inn (Clinton Township)
Wok Inn is a long-standing east side tradition, conveniently located right across from Lakeside Mall on Hayes, yet still no one seems to know about it -- certainly not the denizens of Yelp. (Seriously, how has this place been overlooked? Other than the fact that no one really pays attention to the whole of Macomb County?) Their General Tso's is THE BEST. I've eaten at every freakin' Chinese restaurant in Macomb County over the many years of my youth and I can tell you, unequivocally, this place is THE BEST. (I can also tell you that the MC has a LOT of Chinese places.) Perfectly-crispy chunks of deep-fried juicy white chicken coated in rich, thick, plum-colored sweet and spicy General Tso's sauce...I have searched long and hard for a General Tso's that can even remotely compare, and still to this day remain disappointed. The Kung Pao chicken and egg drop soup also rule. This was MY house of holiday refuge for many years.

#2 Empire Dynasty (Farmington Hills)
Located in a strip mall and filled with what we Americans might deem classic "Chinese foood" d├ęcor, Empire Dynasty certainly isn't breaking down any stereotype barriers, but their food more than makes up for it. Skip straight to the hot and sour soup and any of their "house specialties," and all of it in huge portions.

#3 Hong Hua (Farmington Hills)
*Sigh* There was a time when Hong Hua was truly at the top of her game, snagging "Restaurant of the Year" from Hour Detroit and rave reviews for her elegant, upscale Chinese cuisine. The old gal doesn't quite have the same sparkle she once did, but she was still named one of the "Top 100" Asian restaurants in the country by Zagat (IKR?) in 2011 so all is not lost. Maybe you just forgot about her? When flashier places like Chen Chow opened, then pan-Asian/Asian fusion fell out of "foodie" favor, perhaps she just became...old news? It's time to rediscover this place, even if it is as an oldie-but-goodie. There simply is no finer place in metro Detroit for top-notch Cantonese cuisine (those of you who are abusers of the word "authentic" will be thrilled to know that there is a whole separate menu written entirely in Chinese available upon request--they're happy to translate). Try the Peking Duck.

#4 Wing's Gardens (Oak Park)
This is your go-to gut-bomb kind of Chinese place. Large portions, heavy dishes--"greasy" is maybe not the best word for it, but "light" certainly isn't either. They've got all the Chinese-American standards, nothing super-standout but they nail it where it counts: quality, consistency and value.

#5 Peking House (Royal Oak)
Much as the landscape of Royal Oak has changed over the years, one thing has remained consistent: Peking House. This is perhaps one of those places that gets by on its notoriety and longevity more than any actual superiority, but as anyone knows it's all about "location location location," and they're in one of the most primo restaurant real estate cities in SE Michigan. The Mongolian beef is where it's at here, but vegetarians will also love the veggie-heavy fried rice.

Bubbling under Lotus Pond Restaurant (Warren), China Star (Wyandotte), New Peking (Garden City),  Moy's Restaurant (St. Clair Shores), China Moon (Clinton Twp.), Jade Palace (Oak Park), Chopstick Inn (Riverview), Lucky Dragon (Detroit)

*With apologies and exceptions made for those who actually are from China, and/or have spent a significant enough amount of time there. "Significant" being more than five days on a leisure trip. Like, people who lived there for six months for work, or were stationed there with the Peace Corps. That sort of thing. 

§This rant will be repeated in a future post about sushi.

Wok Inn Dining on Urbanspoon