A Delectable Dining Guide to Ethnic Food in Delaware • Chinese Restaurants
Where to go and what to eat—and one dish you should probably skip.
The Crownery is famous for Peking duck//Photo by Steve Legato
THE CHINESE REVOLUTION
In life, opportunity is frequently accompanied by anxiety: The gracious arrival of no fewer than five restaurants boasting straight-out-of-China menus is presenting intrepid Delaware diners with more chances than ever to explore authenticity, yet even the most daring might pale at the offal-loving inclinations that define the true spirit of Chinese food.
Know this: Risks can be sumptuously rewarded, usually quite affordably, and with such a sense of revelation that sweet-and-gooey monotony of Americanized standards might be forgotten.
The best of these no-nonsense Chinese restaurants are clustered in and around Main Street in Newark, thanks to the hungry crowds of international students who crave homestyle delights—dishes like the hot pots of simmering broth that allow diners to cook their own feast from a boundless assortment of meats and vegetables. Or consider a daring moment with an unfamiliar ingredient. Maybe it’s the delightful frog stir-fry at Chef Tan or the tingly, numbing sensations of Sichuan peppercorns.
Other unfamiliar dishes may hold familiar appeal: The deep-fried chicken-nugget goodness of chung king chicken with dried chilies is good in any language, and the beauty of Chinese fish dishes (steamed or fried) is often forsaken in our take-out mindset. One word of advice, though: Skip the cold rehydrated jellyfish appetizer. Trust us on that.
Chinese food has been woven into the great American tapestry for longer than most people remember, but even after countless plates of General Tso’s something-or-other and its many westernized cousins, Americans remain wholly clueless about what true Chinese food—and its countless regional variations—is really about. In short, we’ve been doing it all wrong: Instead of ordering several dishes for the table to share, we order our own entrées and hoard them. Instead of venturing into bold new territories, we (and the restaurants themselves) limit selections to safe-but-snoozy ground. Next time, ask for the dishes that the Chinese-American customers eat, then get ready to be titillated, thrilled, and, yes—sometimes—just terrified.
The unapologetically true-to-form upstarts that are invading Newark may have dimmed the Crownery’s reputation for elevated authenticity, but this grande dame of suburban-posh dining in Lantana Square still stands as a beloved interpreter of Chinese-American standards. Multilingual diners may want to dare a journey into the untranslated Chinese menu. Others can content themselves with such relatively rare treats as dim sum, whole Peking duck, and moo shu wraps. And there are plenty of solid vegetarian selections.
228 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 239-3825 • website
Perhaps wisely, the menu at this beach favorite is designed more for broad appeal than bold adventures, though its good-old-standby sensibilities are served well by a thoughtful kitchen.
The buzz: Crispy walnut shrimp and scallops ($25.50) and the General Tso chicken ($18.50).
57 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3848 • website
This still-underappreciated gem of real-deal Chinese cookery fills quickly with real-deal Chinese students from UD, most intent on worshipping at the altar of the hot pot and its simmer-it-yourself beauty. It is highly regarded as a great place to explore the relatively unknown—and sometimes unsettling—world of Chinese food as it exists in China. The buzz: Spicy crispy cucumbers ($6.95), spicy dry pot with frog ($24.95) and sliced tilapia with pickled vegetables ($26.95).
108 E. Main St., Newark, 366-0900 • website
Hong Hing Chinese Restaurant
The menu makes a welcome reach beyond the predictable at this take-out favorite, known for its curry dishes, quick delivery and overall reliability. The buzz: Hong Hing is one of relatively few places that offers supremely addictive Singapore Noodles, a pasta-esque jumble of curry-scented chicken, pork and shrimp in rice noodles.
707 S. Union St., Wilmington, 421-9868 • website
Hyan Hot Pot
At this recently opened newcomer in the rapidly intensifying sub-genre of Newark-area Chinese “hot pot” cuisine, the authenticity is served with a touch of class, and the selection of thin-cut beef, pork and other hot pot ingredients can seem endless and, occasionally intimidating.
230 E. Main St., Suite 207 (Newark Shopping Center), 368-9688 • website
The flavors of Northeastern China could seem too esoteric for Fox Run Shopping Center, until you discover that one of its specialties is $1.50-per-piece skewers of meat, shrimp and veggies cooked over a charcoal grill—and that is delectable in any language.
22 Fox Hunt Drive, Bear, 836-2498 • website
A good take-out-style shop for those who tire of typical Chinese to go, this early entrant in Newark’s authentic Chinese food explosion does things right for the price. The buzz: Try bun xao with meat fillings ($8.50-$9.95) and Sichuan poached sliced chicken in hot chili oil ($13.95).
153 E. Main St., Newark, 737-4988 • website
Transcendent moments are always possible in one of New Castle County’s most daring Chinese restaurants, where the dependably able, Sichuan-leaning kitchen shows flashes of brilliance in such dishes as fish filet with tofu in hot and spicy sauce ($18.95), chicken with hot dry pepper ($15.95) and crispy salt-and-pepper seafood ($18.95).
4435 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-6900 • website