Chinese food around town
Chow’s Asian Bistro When Chow’s opened in Santa Fe in 1993, it was on the cutting edge of what could be called nouveau Chinese — fresher, healthier versions of traditional Sichuan dishes — which the restaurant itself has called New Age or contemporary fusion cuisine. Chow’s hot and sour soup, for example, includes such nontraditional ingredients as chopped tomatoes and button mushrooms along with the customary white pepper and black vinegar. It’s a good light soup — but it’s neither very hot nor very sour, and it bears only minimal resemblance to its progenitor.
Coffee chicken, created by owner Jason Zeng’s father, is Chow’s signature dish. Chunks of chicken breast — rubbed and marinated with ground coffee, quick-fried, then drained to remove excess oil — are stir-fried with scallions, red chilis, green beans, and a proprietary sauce to produce a slightly sweet and spicy, deliciously different dish.
Lu Lu’s Chinese Cuisine & Bar Sometimes finger food, rather than a sit-down dinner, is just what you want to share with friends, perhaps washed down with an icy cold beer. So we decided to mine Lu Lu’s appetizers — the menu lists 11 hot and seven cold choices, plus seven soups. It was a frigid night, so we bypassed the chilled Sichuan noodles and lettuce wraps in favor of the hot and sour and wonton soups, the Chinese onion pancakes, barbecue pork spareribs, crispy cream cheese wontons, egg rolls, golden fried shrimp, paperwrapped chicken, and “beef cho-cho.” (Everything but the soup and onion pancakes is available in one package on the Po-Po Tray for two — a Chinese spin on the pu pu platters once standard at Polynesianthemed restaurants and available in some variation on most of Santa Fe’s Chinese restaurant menus.) Yes, it was a fried-food fiesta. And yes, we ate it all. If you want to satisfy your yen for Chinese food without leaving home, Lu Lu’s is the only choice in Santa Fe that offers delivery. You can access the restaurant’s full menu through Dashing Delivery (505-983-3274; www.dashingdelivery.com).
Panda Express Founded in 1983 in Southern California, Panda Express now operates more than 1,800 Chinese fast-food outlets around the world, including two in Santa Fe. When Lucky Peach — the irreverent food journal co-founded by New York restaurateur David Chang and former New York
Times restaurant reviewer Peter Meehan — recently published “The Official Panda Express Power Rankings,” we decided to give their top three picks a try. If you like your Chinese food sweet, with no significant spice or burn, orange chicken is the dish for you. The breaded chicken nuggets, deep-fried before being wok-cooked with a secret orange sauce, account for a full third of the chain’s revenue. Fat and sugar are an unbeatable combination. The honey-walnut shrimp dish was a delightful surprise: The shrimp was moist and flavorful, the walnuts crispy, the sauce lighter and less sweet than that coating the orange chicken — a combination worth a return visit. Lucky Peach’s third pick, an eggplant-tofu dish on the national menu, was not available in either local Panda Express — something we found odd in a town known for its visible — and vocal — vegetarian and vegan diners.
Wok Chinese Cuisine The gossip is that Wok changed hands recently — something we can neither confirm nor deny. What we can say is that when Wok says a menu item is hot and spicy, it means it. While it shares a number of menu choices with other Chinese restaurants in Santa Fe, Wok also offers a taste of the Mongolian-influenced cuisine of northern China — more meat-centric and spicier than its Cantonese- and Sichuan-inspired cousins. When we ordered the cumin lamb, a daily special, our waitress said, “Ah. That’s real Chinese food.” Heavily rubbed with cumin and served with onions, green peppers, a handful of cilantro (aka Chinese parsley), and dried red chilis, the unsauced lamb was bold, tender, and nose-running hot — and unlike anything else we had sampled around town. The ma po tofu was also a good rendition of the Sichuan classic, despite the nontraditional addition of peas and carrots to the dish. The braised tofu was silky and fresh-tasting, swimming in a bracing bright red sauce with more of those ubiquitous red peppers, and prepared with finely diced pork as is customary — although Wok will happily leave out the meat on request.
Yin Yang Chinese Restaurant Yin Yang has been operating continuously in Santa Fe since 1990. The large menu includes a range of appetizers, soups, pork, chicken, beef, duck, seafood, and vegetarian dishes — mostly in the Cantonese and Sichuan style, with a few Hunan and Mongolian specialties. The hot and sour soup was better than many other versions we tried — chewy bits of dried black mushrooms, creamy tofu, ribbons of egg, bamboo shoots, and just enough cornstarch to hold it all together — but not quite as hot or as sour as we would have liked. Likewise, the seven vegetables with tofu didn’t come close to earning its heat warning. What it did deliver was the promised assortment of seven crisp-cooked veggies and soft tofu braised in a mild hoisin sauce. General Tso’s chicken — large chunks of chicken thigh, fried to a crisp and bathed in a subtle ginger, garlic, and chili sauce with crunchy steamed broccoli florets — was very satisfying.