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Seeking good "bad" Chinese-American food in the inner western burbs (Belmont / Arlington / Lexington / Watertown / Waltham, maybe Cambridge and Somerville)

So, I tried it, and Kowloon just does not satisfy my occasional cravings for good, "bad" Chinese-American food. This is the stuff I grew up eating in the '60s. It is NOT authentic. We are talking chicken fingers, egg rolls, egg foo yong with gloppy (but tasty) sauce, that sort of thing. My criteria for what makes it good is

- fried foods are not greasy, but should be nice and crispy. For things like chicken fingers, there should be enough batter to make a definite batter layer, but not too much.

- no western vegetables used (e.g. no celery or zucchini)

- the sauce that is part of a stir-fried item should not be some gloppy brown substance that is the same for everything at the restaurant. (There is an avoid-at-all-costs restaurant in my area, Yours, that does that. A cardinal sin.)

- When served the food should be hot and fresh. It may be inauthentic but it should be done well.

I used to sometimes get take out from the Tiki Inn near Watertown Square to satisfy this need, but have not gone there in several years after some disappointing experiences.

Suggestions, anyone?

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  1. Bamboo in Bedford or Westford
    China Sky in Winchester
    I've heard the Mandarin in Reading but not been

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    China Sky
    27 Converse Pl, Winchester, MA 01890

    2 Replies
    1. re: justbeingpolite

      Mandarin in Reading is owned by the same people as Bamboo.

      There's also a Yangtze River in Littleton.
      Great Wall in Bedford
      Great Mandarin in Woburn

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      The Great Mandarin Restaurant
      186 Cambridge Road, Woburn, MA 01801

      Yangtze River Restaurant
      584 King St, Littleton, MA 01460

      1. re: greygarious

        Yangtze River in Littleton is horrible. They are the kings of celery in everything too. For some reason the lexington location always has better food.

        I have not been in years but our go to place in Waltham for that sort of food used to always be Dragon Chef on moody st. It is takeout only.

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        Dragon Chef Restaurant
        411 Washington St, Brighton, MA 02135

        Yangtze River Restaurant
        584 King St, Littleton, MA 01460

    2. Wait, how can you have 60's Chinese American food without celery? I thought that was one of the essentials? At least it was where I grew up.

      13 Replies
      1. re: cpingenot

        Hehe, I don't remember celery being used in my old neighborhood. But I do have very fond memories of the pistachio ice cream served for desert at one of the two Chinese-American restaurants within a few blocks of my home (in a neighborhood where the Italian kids were still beating up the Jewish kids on account of events since addressed by John XXIII). Looking back, it was terrible ice cream - artificial color, no doubt artificial flavor, ice crystals - but it had cherries in it. (I have to reproduce this. Maybe this summer.)

        I suppose what is Chinese-American is regional. There was a great article in the NY Times a few years back about a midwestern (or was it Missouri?) version of chicken with cashews that is immensely popular, but nothing like what we would be served if we asked for it around here.

        1. re: PinchOfSalt

          I wonder if that ice cream was actually spumoni? I recall Braintree Five Corners, the epitome of 50's and 60's Chinese American food, serving it. Our favorite Chinese meal when I was a kid? Chicken wings, spare ribs (3 children, and my dad would order 2 orders each!) egg foo young, pork fried rice. And, bread and butter dipped in duck sauce.

          1. re: CookieLee

            My family would get wonton soup and egg roll instead of the spare ribs and chicken wings. Bread and butter was not part of the C-A menu in my old neighborhood. But we did get a bowl of crispy fried noodle bits - flat and blistered from frying - that were intended to go into whatever soup was ordered. They rarely made it that far. This is something I have NEVER seen in the Boston area. Has anyone noticed them?

            (Stop and Shop used to have an interesting variety of very regional foods until its most recent change of corporate hands... but that is another discussion...)

            Spumoni we got in the red-sauce Italian restaurant. This stuff was unique. I have never seen pistachio-cherry ice cream anywhere else, then or since.

            1. re: PinchOfSalt

              I know it's not in your area, but 10 days ago, Itook my daughter to the City Buffet, a Chinese buffet place in Derby, CT (She loves their clams and Sushi) and they had Pistachio/Cherry Ice Cream in the dessert freezer. I pulled out the Tub, but the only label was in Chinese. My daughter can read this and unfortunately it merely said ice cream and 3 gallons, no mfg info.

              1. re: bagelman01

                Holy cow, it (still) exists! The Chinese-language label thing is intriguing.

              2. re: PinchOfSalt

                I think the crispy noodle thing is a NY State/ NYC metro area thing. I travel to NJ for work about twice a year, and I love getting Chinese-American takeout there - it's exactly like what I remember from growing up in the NY suburbs. But, the C-A food there is very different than the C-A food here. I never even heard of crab rangoon until I moved to Boston.

                1. re: VintageMolly

                  I completely agree. My early years were spent in Brooklyn. There were no crab rangoons. Even though I have lived most of my life here, I still don't "get" crab rangoons!

                  1. re: PinchOfSalt

                    I've pretty much given up on Chinese-American food in Boston, it just doesn't hit the spot well enough for me to get into it. I've also completely given up on pizza, but that's a whole other thread entirely.

                    I travel a lot for work, and one of my chain avoidance strategies it to hit the local chinese takeout joints. I've had Chinese-American food in rural parts of Indiana and Alabama that hits the spot better for me than anything I've had in Boston.

                    Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles has a plausible explanation of why this is - she says most chinese restaurants in this country are staffed by an underground network based out of NY's Chinatown. The difference in the food in Boston and the food in parts of the country likely to be staffed by that network make me think that Boston isn't a part of this system. I could be wrong, just a hypothesis.

                2. re: PinchOfSalt

                  I think East Asia in Teele Sq. actually has the crispy fried noodles.

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                  East Asia Restaurant
                  868 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

                  1. re: maillard

                    I agree fully with this - East Asia is amazing and has surprisingly great sushi

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                    East Asia Restaurant
                    868 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

                  2. re: PinchOfSalt

                    Just for the record, I grew up eating those crispy fried noodles, intended to go into soup like croutons, in Louisville, KY. (In the 1990s, 2000s.) So it's not purely a New York regional dish.

                    1. re: PinchOfSalt

                      They serve crispy noodles at China Inn in Pawtucket, RI. Not exactly next door but if you're in the area. I haven't eaten there in 4 or 5 years. It used to be good but last I went it was pretty sad.

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                      China Inn Restaurant
                      285 Main St, Pawtucket, RI 02860

                      1. re: PinchOfSalt

                        Tahiti on Route 1 in Dedham used to have those crispy flat noodles - and they would last all of about two seconds on the table. Used to love dipping them in duck sauce and mustard. That was about 40 years ago, though. I'm pretty sure the current incarnation shed the noodles with the awesome Polynesian decor probably in the 80s.

                3. Jade Garden in Arlington, Yangtze River in Lexington, the Chinese-American food at Qingdao Garden in Cambridge....

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                  Qingdao Garden Restaurant
                  2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                  Yangtze River Restaurant
                  21 Depot Sq, Lexington, MA 02420

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: hiddenboston

                    I really like New Yummy Hut in Somerville. Awesome ribs and Scallion pancakes.

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                    Yummy Hut
                    217 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                    1. re: hiddenboston

                      Ill 2nd Jade Garden and add

                      Mary Chung in Central Square Cambridge

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                      Mary Chung Restaurant
                      460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      1. re: Locutus

                        I'm guessing Mary Chung is closer in than they're looking for, but I really dig the place. I don't know that I'd call it "good bad chinese-american food" so much as "chinese-american food done right". Not sure how best to describe the difference, but the former category I think of stuff that I remember from my childhood, just not in a sucky way. Mary Chung OTOH seems to have similar dishes, just done in a much tastier way - for instance their general gau there is different than any I can remember ever having but it's quite tasty.

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                        Mary Chung Restaurant
                        460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        1. re: jgg13

                          I have eaten at Mary Chung's for years and years and years, spanning multiple physical locations. While many Hounds would say it is not authentic, it is definitely MORE authentic than anything I am thinking about for my bad Chinese American cravings satisfy-er.. Love the suans and the fried tofu with ginger sauce, though. Come to think of it, there was no tofu in those 1960's dishes, heh. There was no General Gao's on the menu either, but plenty of sweet-and-sour variations.

                          -----
                          Mary Chung Restaurant
                          460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          1. re: PinchOfSalt

                            " it is definitely MORE authentic than anything I am thinking about for my bad Chinese American cravings"

                            That sums up the difference I was trying to describe pretty well.

                        2. re: Locutus

                          4rth Jade Garden. Love their food, I get take out from there delivered about once a month. Really like their hot and sour soup, chicken wings (big, meaty and not too greasy) and Amazing Chicken, which is delicious. Have never eaten there but have read on the board that there are a lot of Asian-American customers. Their egg foo yung is better than what I ate growing up in exactly the kind of places the OP described, real comfort food. The Peking raviolis are a little too tough and there's too much dough-to meat ratio for my taste. It might be the delivery trip, but I've ordered them fried and steamed - PF Chang's are much better.

                        3. re: hiddenboston

                          I've been dying to know more about Jade Garden. How about Three Gorges just over the line in Lexington? Or is that just bad bad?

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                          Three Gorges
                          211 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, MA 02420

                          1. re: digga

                            I haven't been to Three Gorges, but went to one of the Chinese restaurants that was in that spot before it. THE PLACE WAS REALLY LOUD.

                            1. re: hiddenboston

                              for what it's worth, Three Gorges has no relation to New Asia which was the previous tennant :D

                              i just recommended it somewhere else in this thread actually though - its my go-to place since they have delicious delicious peking raviolis (crispy and flavorful without being drowned in grease) I also really like their tangerine shrimp - its not fried like you'd expect, but is stirfried with tangerines, tomatoes, and cucumbers

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                              New Asia Restaurant
                              326 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                              Three Gorges
                              211 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, MA 02420

                          2. re: hiddenboston

                            My (many) Asian friends and neighbors in Lex won't touch the first two above w/ a 10 foot pole. Some have directed me to Asiana Bistro in Bedford, but you must order from the Chinese menu, not the general bad Chinese-American menu. When I went armed with my special Chinese menu, the waitress accusingly asked "Where you get this?" I answered, "From friends." All was ok.

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                            Asiana Bistro
                            200 Great Rd, Bedford, MA 01730

                          3. Changsho on Mass Ave in North Cambridge is really good! If you like a rummy Mai Tai, ask for the "Special" Mai Tai. The Peking Dumplings are very good. Smaller, not doughy and nicely seasoned pork filling - with excellent ginger sauce. The boneless spare ribs are also perfect - where some places serve a sticky pile of overcooked, stringy pork bites, these are succulent and perfectly glazed. My guilty pleasure are the fatty ones!!

                            -----
                            Changsho
                            1712 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Small Plates

                              2nd the Ho for this type of food. When dining in the food comes out fast and piping hot. Their lo mein is tops. 2nd the boneless spare ribs. Generals, Lotus Seed Chicken, Crab Rangoon, Spick String Beans, Chinese Eggplant. Everything is pretty good.

                              1. re: Gabatta

                                i'm intrigued (and really trying not to write what I'm laughing to myself about right now) ; what's a Spick String bean?

                              2. re: Small Plates

                                Definitely thumbs up for Restaurant Changsho. Great Gen. Tso, anything salt-and-pepper style... spareribs and rangoon are excellent. Tasty drinks (I like the Jade). Uniquely Chinese/American dishes like the Pineapple Shrimp (shrimp in a tropical mayonnaise sauce) that are right out of the Trader Vic stable. Lovely restaurant too.

                              3. I don't indulge in these kinds of guilty pleasures, but I'm curious to try Bernard's in the Chestnut Hill Mall. It's not a takeout joint however, I understand it's kind of classy.

                                Probably one the the New Asia's is just as good as any of these take-out emporiums.

                                Just about all of the "authentic" Chinese places have American-Chinese items. Extensive menus in fact, as previous hotly debated before over Robert Nadeau's Sichuan Gourmet review. Why not just order bad things from good places? Or are you too embarrassed, ha ha!

                                -----
                                New Asia Restaurant
                                326 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                                Sichuan Gourmet
                                1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: tatsu

                                  Well, no, let's not revive that old debate, but for me the problem with ordering "bad" things from "good" places is that I expect to get a better version of what I want (whatever it may be) from a place that specializes in it. Practice makes perfect, plus, they will have tuned their recipes to customers who want just what I am craving at the time.

                                  1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                    Chang-An in Concord is probably better than Yangze River in Lexington, but that's getting out of your driving range.

                                    I admit, I ordered General Gau's Tofu at Formosa Taipei, a couple weeks ago. It was good, very soft silken tofu, expertly fried. What can I say? I'd trust them with Moo Goo Gai Pan or whatever you are jonesing for. I like making up orders at Chinese takeout places. Black Bean Sauce Chow Fun, for example.

                                    It's hard to imagine "bad specialists" putting a whole lotta love into Egg Foo Young, but maybe it's out there!

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                                    Formosa Taipei
                                    315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                                    1. re: tatsu

                                      One of the reasons we haven't been to Chang-An in years is we found it to be way overpriced for meh Am.Chinese. Remember that robins-egg blue house/restaurant in Acton near the train station? They used to do great things for the blink of an eye time they were around.

                                    2. re: PinchOfSalt

                                      I'm totally cringing at the thought but what about....PF Chang's?

                                      1. re: tatsu

                                        Xactly. (And for someone who doesn't indulge in this stuff, you sure do know a bit about it! ;-)

                                        But for this kind of thing, I'd go to Changsho because as the OP says, they actually want properly prepared food, even if it's inauthentic.

                                        Also out of the OP's desired geography, Billy Tse's does this kind of grub really well.

                                        -----
                                        Billy Tse's
                                        240 Commercial St Lbby 1, Boston, MA 02109

                                        Changsho
                                        1712 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                        1. re: tatsu

                                          PF Chang's oh dear!

                                          FWIW, really, I am seeking a place that is not too far from my home, somewhere I can go on the spur of the moment with a friend for an unfussy meal, or drop by to grab some take out when the gotta have hits. So far Jade Garden is leading the pack (decent proximity, definitely does the good bad C-A food thing) with Yummy Hut coming in second (LOVE the name, but Arlington is much easier for me than Somerville). But this discussion is fun and it is indeed so interesting to see "certain people" chiming in. Ha ha! Guess I am not alone in the occasional craving for the stuff.

                                          -----
                                          Yummy Hut
                                          217 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                                          1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                            I have sent people to East Asia in Powderhouse Sq. for this sort of thing and they have been happy. It's been a while but I remember carefully prepared food. Can't speak to your craving, I grew up with no Chinese and that stuff has never called to me.

                                            -----
                                            East Asia Restaurant
                                            868 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

                                      2. re: tatsu

                                        With the qualification that it's been over five years since I last ate at a New Asia, they're certainly where I've gone to scratch this itch in the past. Any recent reports?

                                        Years ago, I would have told you to go to Quan's Kitchen on Comm Ave in Allston for good-bad C-A dishes, but they changed owners about five years ago and the elderly cook retired, and their quality level immediately plummeted. They're now bad-bad C-A, I'm afraid.

                                        -----
                                        New Asia Restaurant
                                        326 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                          Haha thanks, JO. Yeah, this kind of cooking might well find its experts in the cadre of older cooks who learned it back in the bad-old days.

                                          Personally, I have been leery of New Asia in its various branches. There was one in Belmont that was okay when it opened, but then was largely empty for years (for reasons that shall not be discussed here) before being seized. The bad rep of the Belmont location has influenced me to stay away from its other branches. I will be most interested to read responses to your question about it.

                                          -----
                                          New Asia
                                          93 Trapelo Rd, Belmont, MA 02478

                                          1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                            Good reason to be leery. I ate at the New Asia in Arlington right before it was shut down by the health dept 5 years ago (little did I know of all of their health violations!). I was 38 weeks pregnant, and after eating there my daughter decided that was her cue to exit - my water broke right after dinner. :-)

                                        2. re: tatsu

                                          if you go to Bernards, their shrimp dishes are good, and their "angel hair" pasta dishes. most things i've tried there (duck, ss crab, chilean sea bass, chow fun) are not bad. and they throw in some free crab rangoons ;)