HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

What Chinese Take-out Menu Items Do You Never Order?

Chinon00 Jan 5, 2008 06:53 PM

I've gotten stuck into a rut lately with chinese take-out. Generally it's the same thing:
1) Qt House Lo Mein
2) Qt House Fried Rice
3) Shrimp Roll
4) Egg Roll
5) Pan Fried Dumplings (6)

Then there are the usual suspects like General Tsao, Sweet and Sour, Beef and Broccoli . . .

But then there are so many things on a typical Chinese take-out menu that I've never had. What are some ridiculously good yet under ordered, unpopular items on a typical Chinese take-out menu?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. t
    Tay RE: Chinon00 Jan 5, 2008 07:29 PM

    Most people never order:
    a) Dried Sauteed Stringbeans, instead opting for sauteed broccoli or snow peas. They are basically stir fried with a bit of garlic and topped with some minced roast pork.. No goppy sauce. They are really delicious prepared this way but no one seems to order them
    b) Sesame Noodles....cold or hot. Very tasty dish, but something about the strange mixture of scallions, noodles and sesame paste seems to turn off most people
    c) Young Chow Fried Rice- So much better than House Special . It's prepared without soy sauce so it's made fresh. Without the overpowering, salty sauce, the flavors of the other ingredients can be tasted...
    d) Chow Fun. Different texture than Lo Mein.... More 'comforting' and heartier,
    You have to try some of these... :-} .

    11 Replies
    1. re: Tay
      Emme RE: Tay Jan 6, 2008 09:33 AM

      funny - i *always* order the dried stringbeans (no/light oil) and they're just so refreshing and tasty... my place doesn't do pork on top.

      1. re: Emme
        piccola RE: Emme Jan 6, 2008 04:01 PM

        Mee too, again at a place that doesn't add pork.

        1. re: piccola
          Tay RE: piccola Jan 7, 2008 09:26 AM

          I think the minced roast pork may be a regional thing. It's not at all necessary. I love the way the beans 'crisp' up. I don't know why more people don't order them instead of broccoli or snow pea pods drowing in brown sauce...

          1. re: Tay
            SweetPea RE: Tay Jan 8, 2008 02:30 AM

            Instead of pork, the place I like puts little shrimp on them.

      2. re: Tay
        John Manzo RE: Tay Jan 6, 2008 12:01 PM

        I must be one weird gaiw lo, because I often order all these.

        I've never ordered sweet and sour anything except when they gave it to me by accident. Didn't see the appeal.

        I've never ordered desert at a Chinese place, but I think I'd like fried bananas (etc)

        1. re: Tay
          Kelli2006 RE: Tay Jan 6, 2008 12:02 PM

          I have never seen string beans, but I like noodles of all kinds.

          I stay away from Moo Go Gai pan, Happy Family, General Tso's , sweet and sour whatever, and chow mein.

          I do have a weakness for Mu Shu, egg rolls and pot stickers, but I usually try to order 1 new item that I have never had.

          1. re: Kelli2006
            Tay RE: Kelli2006 Jan 7, 2008 09:31 AM

            Try the sauteed dried string beans and the Young Chow (sometimes written, "yang chow" ) Fried Rice.Prepared in a quality restaurant, Delicious!
            Just be aware that a lot of places add red pepper flakes to the string beans, so if that's a concern, be sure to tell them how hot/mild you want them.

          2. re: Tay
            ESNY RE: Tay Jan 7, 2008 10:22 AM

            I love dried sauteed string beans. all the sichuan places in NY top it with minced pork. I also order chow fun more than lo mein. Love those noodles.

            I stopped geting sesame noodles because if you order from the wrong place, you get thick overcooked spaghetti drenched in peanut butter.

            Where available, I tend to lean towards the spicy sichuan food. Double cooked pork, sauteed noodles with minced pork, ants in a tree (which i've only seen on one menu but is a great noodle and minced chicken/pork dish), salt and pepper shrimp. I avoid General Tso, Sesame Chicken, Sweet and Sour dishes.

            I also occassionally order the roasted meats, like Roast Pork over Rice or Roast Duck and steamed pork buns.

            1. re: ESNY
              Blueicus RE: ESNY Jan 7, 2008 11:17 AM

              Count me as a fan of the sauteed string beans (on the menu the chinese term seems to be "four season bean"). There's something comforting of the strong flavours that are paired with the beans that I really enjoy.

              1. re: ESNY
                Chinon00 RE: ESNY Jan 7, 2008 04:06 PM

                "if you order [sesame noodles] from the wrong place, you get thick overcooked spaghetti drenched in peanut butter"

                That is exactly what I got tonight and immediately threw into the garbage.

              2. re: Tay
                alliedawn_98 RE: Tay Jan 7, 2008 11:26 AM

                In my area, they put the dried stringbeans on the buffets. I don't recall going to one in years that didn't have them. I don't recall having minced pork with them. I love those!

              3. Tom Steele RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 06:10 AM

                Most Chinese take-out menus have dishes with extremely vague names, like "Amazing Chicken," "Spicy Ma La Beef," or "Ma Po Tofu," without any explanation. I never seem to want to risk trying these dishes, and like Chinon00, I've tumbled into a delicious rut: egg roll, pork egg foo young, pork fried rice, fried dumplings, and/or hot and sour soup. I realize that egg foo young is no more Chinese than I am, but it's a dish I remember having on special occasions in my childhood, and I really can't resist it--on special occasions!

                9 Replies
                1. re: Tom Steele
                  Jennalynn RE: Tom Steele Jan 6, 2008 09:50 AM

                  I love MaPo Tofu...(it's ground pork and soft tofu in a black beanish sauce... real comfort food). I order or make it at home all the time.

                  The things I don't order are things I don't like. I don't order Fried Wontons or Sweet and Sour Anything (my friends call it "sugar meat"). Lemon Chicken... again, it's fried stuff with sweet sauce.

                  If you have the time, you can go online and search any of the names of things you don't know and find out what's in them. Although maybe not "Amazing Chicken" ; )

                  1. re: Jennalynn
                    CraigH RE: Jennalynn Jan 6, 2008 12:10 PM

                    Is MaPo Tofu difficult to make? My mom used to say it was her favorite but I've never found it on a menu (I very rarely eat at Chinese restaurants).

                    1. re: CraigH
                      justagthing RE: CraigH Jan 6, 2008 12:45 PM

                      Ma Po Tofu is very easy to make, there are also good box varieties in the Chinese markets. Also you can find it in many Japenese ramen restaurants. Ma po ramen is really good stuff as well.

                    2. re: Jennalynn
                      Tom Steele RE: Jennalynn Jan 6, 2008 12:35 PM

                      Thanks, Jennalynn, I'll definitely try MaPo Tofu next time the urge for Chinese grabs us (about once a week, lately!).

                      1. re: Tom Steele
                        SweetPea RE: Tom Steele Jan 8, 2008 02:39 AM

                        It IS really good!

                        1. re: Tom Steele
                          Aromatherapy RE: Tom Steele Jan 8, 2008 08:18 AM

                          Be aware that there is "real" MaPo (spicy! hot-and-numbing) and suburban American MaPo (not).

                          1. re: Aromatherapy
                            SweetPea RE: Aromatherapy Jan 8, 2008 03:20 PM

                            Whoa! OK, I had to order it today and mentioned that I was the friend of a special coustomer who is Chinese, remember us? "Oh yes, I remember you" and I get the MaPo Tofu. It was "real". Lips on fire, sweat beads at the hairline. I have to admit I forgot how spicy hot and numbing it it can be. But good, good, good.

                      2. re: Tom Steele
                        Tay RE: Tom Steele Jan 7, 2008 09:42 AM

                        You need to find a restaurant that has a written description of the dishes offered.
                        Even the little neighborhood takeout places around the corner, are starting to do that.
                        If not, stop by a biggger, more 'upscale' place and get one of their takeout menu's, or as Jenna suggested, check on line for menu's that have descriptions..
                        Try something in a small/pt size so it won't be too much of an investment if you don't like it. One tip: Never, ever order Pork Fried Rice. It's made up in uge batches early in the day and it just gets "refreshed" when needed. Try the house special Young Chow fried Rice. If it's too bland, AKA: Not salty enough, you can always add your own soy sauce. With all the other dishes/sauces, you won't want and certainly don't need the extra sodium.

                        1. re: Tay
                          Tom Steele RE: Tay Jan 7, 2008 10:29 AM

                          Thanks for the sage advice, Tay. We'll definitely try Young Chow Fried Rice (the name of our preferred neighborhood purveyor is Young Chow, on Fourth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets). And we won't order Pork Fried Rice any more. We'll also try the Sauteed Dried String Beans, especially if they "pork it up" at Young Chow. Thanks again!

                      3. Eric in NJ RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 12:14 PM

                        My late favorite is Shrimp with cashews. Comes with the baby corn little mushrooms along with the shrimp and nuts. Sesame chicken is another thing we order allot.

                        1. Suzy Q RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 01:53 PM

                          I'm a big fan of just about anything in garlic sauce - chicken, shrimp, even just veggies.

                          One other dish I really like is cashew chicken, but I've noticed that different restaurants make it in a wide variety of ways - some use all white meat, some diced white and dark, some with mixed veggies, some with just celery and water chestnuts...anyone else noticed that?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Suzy Q
                            ccbweb RE: Suzy Q Jan 6, 2008 04:45 PM

                            Definitely: my wife and I abjectly loved the Cashew Chicken (extra spicy) from the local Chinese restaurant the last place we lived. We'd tried Cashew Chicken all over the country since then in the hopes of finding something even close....no luck so far. And none of the versions we've tried have been similar to one another to any great extent either.

                            Our current favorite "new" dish from our new local place is a Chicken and Eggplant with Basil, Garlic sauce over rice noodles. Like Tay mentioned about Chow Fun (which we also always order, every time no matter what) it's amazingly comforting with the wide rice noodles and has some great flavor and good heat.

                          2. g
                            gloriousfood RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 05:07 PM

                            I don't order General Tso anything, chow mein/chop suey (don't even know what the latter looks like), I have, however, ordered fried fish with sweet bananas and fried apple sticks from my local takeout joint, which were surprisingly good (do they count? Hey, I did order them from a Chinese takeout!).

                            1. ArikaDawn RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 05:33 PM

                              I am a big fan of moo goo gai pan as long as it is not over-sauced. I love that it is loaded with a large variety of veggies, and at the place I go, uses only white meat chicken. I also love my local take-outs chicken with mushrooms in garlic sauce. Not typical menu fare, but soo good, and I am sure most resto.s would make it.
                              Some things I never order are orange chicken, lemon chicken, or fried items such as crab rangoon or egg rolls. I will eat the fried items when dining in, but they have to be piping hot and frsh otherwise they tend to just taste greasy to me.

                              1. luckyfatima RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 07:28 PM

                                i never order anything sweet and sour. yuck.

                                for take-out i also avoid anything that has to be fresh from the wok or deep fryer to taste its best. like fish, fried wontons, etc.

                                1. p
                                  Panini Guy RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 08:17 PM

                                  Chinese take out in suburban Pittsburgh isn't all that great. Luckily there's one place that's been excellent for us, but they specialize in Cantonese and I don't care much for water chestnuts or baby corn, so I avoid items with those. Happily this same place offers a version of General Tso's doesn't involve thick crispy batter which puts that dish back in play after years of going without. They also do an awesome Singapore noodle.and an astounding eggplant in garlic sauce, and I understand those are not oft-ordered items around here.

                                  I rarely order cold sesame noodles here because they are uniformly awful compared to what I used to get in CT/NYC/Boston take out joints.

                                  1. linguafood RE: Chinon00 Jan 6, 2008 08:40 PM

                                    I would never order the pupu platter ;-) must be something about the name. Also, anything double fried, or in some sort of icky sticky batter.... gross.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: linguafood
                                      Gio RE: linguafood Jan 8, 2008 08:34 AM

                                      Hey, that's MY response. LOL
                                      Additionaly, we never order fried rice, fried dumplings, won ton, chop suey, or anything sweet & sour. Those marishino cherries just don't belong there. Also don't like baby corn, so don't order anything with them included.... or if DC wants the dish, I just avoid them.

                                      Love Chow Fun!!! Love steamed vegetable dumplings.

                                    2. b
                                      burritobelle RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 12:19 AM

                                      I am also anti sweet and sour anything and avoid most fried items on the menus.

                                      I second (third? fifth?) the chow fun love -- the wide noodles are just so damn good.

                                      I tend to be drawn to anything that says "double mushroom" -- I love those big fat black mushrooms. A perfect Chinese standard dish for me is garlicky chicken with double mushrooms and bok choy.

                                      I love ordering eggplant dishes at Chinese restaurants -- its always all stew-y and rich tasting.

                                      When I was a little girl I always ordered shrimp in lobster sauce. I haven't had it in at least a decade, but have been craving that eggy sauce.

                                      The Chinese soups are usually delicious. Hot and sour may be typical -- but it's damn good. I also like the war won ton from time to time.

                                      Scallion pancakes are also tasty!

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: burritobelle
                                        piccola RE: burritobelle Jan 7, 2008 06:34 PM

                                        Those eggplants are so tasty because they're fried. Sadly.

                                        1. re: piccola
                                          Hunicsz RE: piccola Jan 7, 2008 09:15 PM

                                          I don't think they're always fried. Where I live (SF bay area), I've rarely encountered a fried one. However, they are sauteed in copious amounts of oil, and eggplant is so spongy it just soaks it all up. So, I agree, not healthy.

                                          1. re: piccola
                                            Panini Guy RE: piccola Jan 8, 2008 03:26 AM

                                            the eggplants might also be tasty because they're eggplants...

                                            1. re: piccola
                                              justagthing RE: piccola Jan 8, 2008 05:00 AM

                                              Are you saying that they are 'deep fried?' That is not always the case, maybe where you order eggplant, but not all places fry them.

                                              1. re: justagthing
                                                Humbucker RE: justagthing Jan 8, 2008 08:33 AM

                                                They're not deep fried, but they are shallow fried in a ton of oil (at least in every chinese restaurant I've been to that I've seen this dish in).

                                                1. re: Humbucker
                                                  justagthing RE: Humbucker Jan 8, 2008 03:27 PM

                                                  Stir fried or in a casserole is most common and the amount of oil depends on the cook/restaurant. Most of the places that I have gone to fortunately, do not use too much oil.

                                                  1. re: Humbucker
                                                    piccola RE: Humbucker Jan 8, 2008 05:12 PM

                                                    I didn't mean deep-fried, just shallow-fried. But that's still tons of oil.

                                                    1. re: piccola
                                                      Blueicus RE: piccola Jan 8, 2008 06:14 PM

                                                      Some places will "blanch" the eggplant in oil prior to stir frying. This is one way of maintaining the vibrant purple colour on the skins while having the inside as tender as a long roasted eggplant..

                                              2. re: burritobelle
                                                spellweaver16 RE: burritobelle Jan 7, 2008 11:35 PM

                                                What is war won ton? I see it at the place we like to go to but it only comes in a quart and has no description. If it's really good, though, I'll give it a shot!

                                                1. re: spellweaver16
                                                  Pampatz RE: spellweaver16 Jan 8, 2008 01:11 PM

                                                  The only time I had war won ton it was a hearty won ton soup with veggies, pork, shrimp and chicken along with the won tons.

                                                  1. re: Pampatz
                                                    spellweaver16 RE: Pampatz Jan 8, 2008 05:37 PM

                                                    Wow, that sounds great! I'll have to try it.

                                                  2. re: spellweaver16
                                                    soypower RE: spellweaver16 Jan 8, 2008 02:31 PM

                                                    "war" or "wor" means everything. so it basically means you get a wonton with shrimp, pork & veggies instead of just pork.

                                                2. soypower RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 12:41 AM

                                                  if i'm lucky, the takeout menu i'm ordering from has salt and pepper squid, hand-shaved barley green noodles and sizzling rice soup...i also like anything with fermented black beans, especially seafood.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: soypower
                                                    piccola RE: soypower Jan 7, 2008 06:35 PM

                                                    Barley noodles? Never seen those. But I've had salt&pepper tofu, and it was fantastic.

                                                    1. re: piccola
                                                      soypower RE: piccola Jan 8, 2008 02:36 PM

                                                      the bright green of the noodles is truly a sight to behold...they are also hand shaved, so you get really big irregular pieces. chewy and oh so yummy. :o)

                                                      here's a pic:


                                                  2. s
                                                    swsidejim RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 09:31 AM

                                                    no tofu, no egg foo yung, no sweet and sour dishes, nothing where I know Krab will be substituted for the real thing.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: swsidejim
                                                      Tay RE: swsidejim Jan 7, 2008 09:49 AM

                                                      I agree. I'm starting to wonder if any local places use actual crabmeat in their dishes? WIth that in mind, I usually just stick to seafood I can "verify" :-}

                                                      1. re: Tay
                                                        swsidejim RE: Tay Jan 7, 2008 10:15 AM

                                                        I typically only order crab @ a Chinese restaurant when I can see some live dungeness crabs in their tanks up front. The other dishes it is not surprising to expect Krab instead of the real thing for the low price they typically charge.

                                                      2. re: swsidejim
                                                        ArikaDawn RE: swsidejim Jan 7, 2008 12:38 PM

                                                        I forgot about tofu. I love the stuff, but it is never prepared how I lke it. I want it crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, not just mush. For awhile I tried to get across this desire, but it is one of the few things I can do well at home so I gave up.

                                                        1. re: ArikaDawn
                                                          Jennalynn RE: ArikaDawn Jan 7, 2008 01:39 PM

                                                          If you eat at Japanese restaurants, look for Atsuage Tofu.

                                                          Just what you're describing.

                                                          1. re: Jennalynn
                                                            Blueicus RE: Jennalynn Jan 7, 2008 04:40 PM

                                                            There's something that's served in many (at least it used to be popular, less so now) Cantonese restaurants (although I really don't know the origins), basically it's like a tofu "fritter" with chopped skitake and preserved sausage served with a light brown sauce. It's called "pei pah to fu" (I just noticed another thread talking about it, they use this term 琵琶豆 "fu"... my memory may be failing me... but I thought it was related to the "skin" character).

                                                            Also, some places will offer pepper and salt 椒鹽 tofu as well, which is basically like the normal pepper and salt pork chop/shrimp but using fried pieces of tofu... that's a dish with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.

                                                      3. sirregular RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 02:10 PM

                                                        You just can't go wrong with Moo Goo Gai Pan, but most people look at me strangely when I order it. It's definitely one of those things that more people should order, because it's such a flavorful, simplistic dish.

                                                        My Blog: http://www.epicureforum.com

                                                        1. steinpilz RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 02:24 PM

                                                          I agree about the dry-fried greenbeans. I'm recovering from a Singapore noodle addiction, this is a noodle stir fry flavored with curry. A friend from Singapore says it's not authentic but it's still pretty good.

                                                          1. m
                                                            MysticYoYo RE: Chinon00 Jan 7, 2008 06:49 PM

                                                            Have to echo the sweet and sour. A colleague of mine ordered it for lunch the other day and the day-glow color of it was alarming!

                                                            I never order chow mein, the fried rices, but I confess being a sucker for a good egg foo young, crispy tofu and garlic sauces. I find a lot of Chinese places make very greasy, oily food, so I tend to prefer Vietnamese or Thai.

                                                            1. sbp RE: Chinon00 Jan 8, 2008 09:26 AM

                                                              Not widely available, but if you see "Chinese Broccoli" or "Gai Lan" on the menu (with anything), try it! Sort of like a milder version of Broccoli Rabe.

                                                              1. monkeyrotica RE: Chinon00 Jan 8, 2008 09:37 AM

                                                                Moogoo, chop suey, triple delight. I'm a big fan of House Special Soup, although it seems that's starting to disappear off the menus. And I really wish they served St. Paul sandwiches around here; basically, egg foo yung on Wonder Bread.

                                                                I've also found that in urban areas, Chinese carryouts can have some excellent American standards. I've found a couple places in DC that serve perfectly fried chicken wings, deep fried hot with blistery skin like a potato chip, simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Also, a few do some surprisingly good cheesesteaks. I was expecting some processed Steak Ums meat, but instead got shredded ribeye on a decent sub roll, but for some reason you have to tell them not to cut it into four pieces.

                                                                Can't stand sweet-and-sour ANYTHING. A co-worker ordered something called "Crystal Scallops" which seemed like it was swimming in Karo syrup. She got violently ill after that.

                                                                1. p
                                                                  Pampatz RE: Chinon00 Jan 8, 2008 01:18 PM

                                                                  No sweet and sour, usually no shrimp or crab, definitely no bok choy braised with a big hunk of fatty pork-tastes great but the fat will kill me. No fried rice either.
                                                                  Love kung pao beef, almost any tofu dish, mu shu pork and spicy sesame fried eggplant.
                                                                  Currenty searching for a Taiwanese dish phonetically pronounced jow jon min. Sort of like Chinese chili mac. Spaghetti, ground meat (I think pork), a small diced brown skinned mushroom in a spicy brown sauce. This is my absolute fav when I can find it.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Pampatz
                                                                    monkeyrotica RE: Pampatz Jan 8, 2008 04:47 PM

                                                                    That chinese chili mac sounds tasty. Oddly enough, it reminds me of the northeast diner staple "American chop suey." Pretty much browned beef, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, macaroni, and assorted spices.

                                                                    1. re: Pampatz
                                                                      silleehillee RE: Pampatz Jan 8, 2008 05:22 PM

                                                                      Pampatz, could this be cha chiang mien? I've only had it once, but it sounds similar to what you're looking for. Though I've not had it with the mushroom.

                                                                      1. re: silleehillee
                                                                        soypower RE: silleehillee Jan 8, 2008 06:07 PM

                                                                        i love the korean/chinese dish called jja jiang myun (black bean sauce noodles). sometimes, when i'm hard up, i'll get the instant ramen version: chapaghetti...

                                                                        other korean/chinese favorites:
                                                                        jampong (spicy seafood noodle soup)
                                                                        gan pung ki (mandarin fried chicken)


                                                                    Show Hidden Posts