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What to order in an Americanized Chinese Restaurant?

So, if you are stuck going to a completely Honky "Chinese" restaurant where EVRYTHING looks like a nastyass cornstarchy muck of whatever, and the help speaks no English, and you do not speak Chinese, what do you do? I mean they don't even have any dumplings because that is too exotic. I am planning to just get fried rice and gut it out, but does anyone here have a better idea?

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  1. Heck, maybe they do speak English and you could ask them to make you something special, something that they would eat themselves. Otherwise, try sweet and sour something and chow meins are usually safe. Please report back how it went and where you went.

    1. I always enjoy a good lemon chicken if they have it. And I agree with the chow mein suggestion. You also can't go too wrong with beef and broccoli, and sometimes you can get lucky and they run out of regular broccoli and give you a nice Chinese green instead. We were very lucky that day indeed! BUT.. Sometimes you justhave to suck it up and eatafter you get home.

      1. Beef and brocooli
        Chicken with mushrooms
        Prawns with snow peas
        Mushrooms with bok choy ... or veggies with water chestnust if thats too sophistcated
        Snow peas, mushrooms and water chestnuts are a good choice always.

        Any simple combination of all of the above prawns, chicken, beef, mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas.

        Asparagus and green beans usually work ... as in string bean chicken, asparagus beef.

        Skip eggplant ... usually cooked to death or burned.

        Cashew chicken can be ok.

        Tomato beef gets into the land of the exotic at these joints ... some places do well, others don't.

        Soups suck

        Steamed rice ...NEVER fried rice ... ick

        In that vein of greasy, badly done fried rice .. no chow mein, chow fun or chop suey.

        Although ... as long as you know where you are ... this is Chinese junk food ... go for the egg fu yung and mu shu stuff if its on the menu.

        Potstickers are safer than egg rolls

        Sweet and sour ... nothing ... don't go there

        Which eliminates pork dishes since they are the usual sweet and sour pork with sugary red-dye sauce, raw onions, hard carrots and bell peppers or cloying bbq pork.

        At last, my decades of Honky Chinese experience put to use.

        5 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Having owned a americanized chinese restaurant, in my family for over 50 years, our most popular dishes were sweet and sour pork/chicken wings or shrimp, fried shrimp, sui mai, chow meins, beef broccoli, almond duck, egg foo young and our egg rolls (because gramps use to make the skins by hand). We were a cook to order take out, but if it is the stuff under the lamps, eeks, good luck.

          1. re: justagthing

            Popular and good are two different things.

            There are Americanized Chinese restaurants that do a good version of all the popular dishes. It sounds like your family was one of those. However, if you don't know the place, veggies and simple meats are safest. Yeah, chicken wings are usually safe too. Foil wrapped chicken ... rarely ... and the rest of the deep fried appetizers ... well, Jack in the Box often does these better.

            1. re: justagthing

              I wish we were going to your restaurant. This place is more like a first-gen, let the distributor write the menu joint. It kills me b/c I can only imagine the good food that they must be serving for the family meal, and I can't even ask for that b/c I do not speak chinese.

              1. re: antepiedmont

                The thing I keep thinking is: learn a few Chinese words. Find a podcast or something and learn to say "hello, will you make me ______" or something similar. Or even plug whatever you'd want to ask into a translator and print it out or something. You might find some amazing results!

                1. re: ccbweb

                  some places have a secret chinese menu. things that have the same name on the american and chinese menu are often completely different. at my local place "spicy pork" is the best thing on the chinese menu (hard tofu, scallions, green chili peppers and stir fried pork) on the american menu it's just general tsao's.
                  the thing about communicating with people that don't speak a common language with you (and there are probably at least a few people that speak fluent english there) is not to be embarrassed, just try try again. eventually you will communicate that you want to eat "chinese" food. they will understand the difference.

          2. Sesame chicken, beef chow fun, spare ribs.

            1. One of the things about bad Chinese that really bugs me is veggies that are so overcooked they are squishy. If I'm in a questionable joint, I'll get Kung Pao Chicken. I like peanuts, it usually has more flavor than other dishes, and no squishy veg.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mojoeater

                Yes, kung pao chicken, the safest dish at blah Chinese places.

              2. I pretty much stick with General Tso's chicken. The sauce is pretty standard, and usually good, and at least you get broccoli for nutrition.

                1. Fried rice

                  Mongolian Beef

                  Brocolli Beef or the Pepper Steak

                  Any sort of chicken dish that is stir-fried

                  Egg Fu Yung (because you can't get it anywhere but at an Americanized chinese restaurant)

                  1. I would try to get steamed veggies. It's not worth the calories to be eating deep fried sweet and sour pork that's mostly greasy crust. Soup is another option, something like egg drop.

                    1. Ginger beef, won ton soup, chicken chow mein, bok choy with fermented black beans and mushrooms, whole steamed fish.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Wow, your "bad" Americanized Chinese restaurants sound better than some of our good restaurants! I don't think I can even get bok choy or fish, let alone bok choy w/ fermented beans and mushrooms and whole steamed fish, at any of our "bad" Americanized Chinese restaurants.:-)

                        1. re: chowser

                          Chowser, hahaha, I was thinking about Americanized Chinese when I'm in out-of-the way places in the US.

                          The Colombianized Chinese restaraunts are so dreadful that I've not been back to one in over 10 years!

                          We can get bok choy and good mushrooms in the supermarket, fermented black beans in a couple of shops, and good whole fresh fish from Chile sold at Carrefour (the French giga-supermarket chain). So Chinese restaraunts here could hypothetically cook up some good food.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            LOL, same language, different worlds--my husband has said there is good Chinese food in Peru so I thought the same might be true in Colombia, too. There is good Americanized Chinese food and then there are the American Chinese restaurants like Chopstix or Szechuan D'Lite that are near me.

                      2. Crab rangoon is my guilty pleasure in americanized chinese places. With Lo Mein as the entree.

                        1. One other thought ...

                          the old Chowhound had a card in various languages asking for the real stuff and not just honky/gringo food.

                          If you have a real Chinese restaurant that you go to, maybe you could have them write down in Chinese something like "do you have a menu for Chinese people" or something like that.

                          1. Several people have posted about the "secret" or family meals that are completely different from whats on the menu. In Seattle and Spokane, I have found that a good many of the Chinese restaurants are owned and operated by Korean families who cook Korean meals for themselves.

                            They will also cook Korean meals for some Korean customers, or American customer who know to ask for a korean dish.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: hannaone

                              For some reason i kinda like the chicken wings (with or without hair) at amerinese restaurants. usually i end up with some chicken and broccoli hot and spicy, since it's never breaded or battered. maybe something in black bean sauce if it's offered. otherwise, i'll get some eggplant dish or vegetable in oyster sauce, or something lame like that. as you can see, my strategy is to go as basic as possible, and at least you avoid making the "pupu platter" later that night, if you catch my drift.

                            2. I would avoid the fried rice--it's usually made with day-old rice. Try stir-fried chicken with mushrooms, beef and broccoli, wor wonton soup, egg rolls, or chow mein, Hong-Kong style, if they have it.

                              Try asking them if there is anyone who speaks English. If they are operating in an area with primarily English speakers, they'll almost certainly have someone who speaks reasonable English. Then ask if they can cook your meal the way a Chinese person would eat it.

                              We used to own such a restaurant, and we always cooked differently for our Chinese patrons as opposed to our non-Chinese patrons. We did not have a secret Chinese menu. But Chinese patrons would ask for certain dishes. As long as we had the ingredients, it was not a problem. If non-Chinese patrons asked for special dishes, we were more than happy to accomodate them--happy patrons result better business.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                I thought that it was appropriate and, in fact, preferable to use day old rice (or, at the very least, cold, cooked rice) for fried rice. So, that in and of itself isn't a real criticism. Over soy sauced, low quailty vegetables would be a good reason to avoid fried rice in such a place.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  That's true. It's just a personal preference: I like using cold rice on the same day it was cooked for my personal cooking.

                                  1. re: raytamsgv

                                    I'll have to give that a shot, thanks!

                              2. I've been to a few here in my town, God Bless them, they are truley Chinese barely speaking English. But the mushy stuff usually is served at lunch time and pretty sub-standard food at that. I have a feeling that this is not the case during the evening meals when they are using a different menu. And not expecting rush hour droves of diners. So maybe you will luck out as I did, if you are going for dinner and not lunch.

                                Co-workers would swear by this place, and I just didn't see it at all. So, the next time they begged me to go with them, I just made sure I didn't order anything that could possibly sit in a pot. I asked for dinner dishes off menu, curries and more of their expensive meals and not ever the "specials" .

                                Simple chowmeins can be prepared and warmed up.. Egg foo yung another simple one can sit. So not much to answer your question. Unless its a hot and sour soup.

                                That is too bad that you have to do this, I get so bummed wasting money.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  Chicken with broccoli & egg rolls are my barometers for Chinese-American food. If the resto can't make these half-way decent then please, please don't eat there! and stick to brown or white rice.

                                2. Noodles (like chow mein/fun) aren't always a safe bet. I've had noodles at Chinese places outside of the bay area, and it's very hit or miss. Even some of the crappier places IN the bay area can be a miss.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tobze

                                    I agree. Some places there are even different noodles - one the "real" noodle (Cantonese "tang zhuang" mian) or the crispy La Choy type noodles. And unfortunately at some Americanized places the default is the La Choy type if you don't ask.

                                    Same for fried rice - mostly due to over soy soy and bad ingredients. For pork fried rice, usually it is diced up left over Char Sui bbq pork, and sometimes those can go bad pretty quick.

                                    The Egg Foo Young is an interesting one. It is true that you can only get it in these type of places, and when done fresh and right, it can be pretty tasty. Just make sure it is cooked to order because it can sit around and then re-fried when ordered as well.

                                    If the restauarant is at all competent, I would stick with the stir fried meat dishes suggested above, things like Kung Pao anything, or Mongolian/Broccoli/Pepper Beef (though lots of sauce).

                                    One other not mentioned is Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.. but there are lots of variations also. The best version I had is nothing but big pieces of shrimp and eggs beaten into a soy based thick sauce. Great for mixing with rice.