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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.