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Dec 19, 2011 12:13 PM

Authentic szechwan option in Durham

Past threads have extolled the virtues of Super Wok Cary and China Gourmet in Carrboro for good Szechwan food. Based on Greg Cox's recent favorable review of Happy China-- and the fact that they have decided to drop sushi as a menu option-- the outlook is good for a third option in Durham. Their website states that the chef has 15 years experience cooking Szechwan dishes. I hope to try it soon and report but if anyone has already tried it already or gets there before I do please appraise us of your experience.

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  1. Can't wait to hear a report. I'm a little iffy on G. Cox.

    2 Replies
    1. re: LulusMom

      Why? Just because nearly every restaurant he reviews is 3.5 stars? Thank goodness we have such great restaurants in the area. :-)

      Seriously though, Happy China is on our "Have to Get to It" list. I thought that the write up made it sound more interesting than the menu did, but I'm still looking forward to trying it. I too am looking forward to a report.

      1. re: LulusMom

        I got takeout from Happy China just after it opened, which was several months ago. If I remember correctly, I got the fish in Szechwan sauce and the eggplant in garlic sauce. My socks weren't knocked off, but I would certainly give it another chance. In fact, I may give it another chance tomorrow, on xmas day, in keeping with Jewish tradition.

      2. Husband and I went the day the review came out. Now, let me preface my remarks that our favorite is still the Chinese menu at Red Lotus. We just love those flavors and Szechwan runs a second for our palates. That said, I will go back to Happy China. There are dishes I want to try--braised beef, beef with chili peppers, the dumplings in red oil and more.

        The flavors didn't seem quite as strong as those in Carrboro or Cary, but as I mention later, memory may be faulty. I am afraid this review won't be very satisfying since we didn't order anything very exciting.

        The specialty menu was not huge, but there were enough interesting items to keep me happy.

        However, my order instead was safe (and a little boring). I got the Dan Dan noodles because Greg Cox had recommended them. My first Dan Dan so I don't really have anything to compare the dish to. I don't care much for peanut butter in my food so it probably wasn't the smartest choice. Don't you hate it when you order something that isn't your favorite when there are other choices (the special was pork with hot peppers)? It seemed nice enough and the leftovers were good for breakfast the next day (the flavors had melded a bit). A hint of heat that I enjoyed.

        Husband got Ma Po Tofu which I really liked. He thought the one at Super Wok was maybe better but it has been quite a while since we have been there so his memory is not to be trusted. The waitress was so cute--she was afraid it would be too spicy for us. It had a nice burn, but we could have even had a touch more.

        Odd things: They did not bring dinner plates--I only had the small plate my Dan Dan Noodles came on so was hard to try the Ma Po. Husband got a very small bowl of rice while the table of Asian young men next to us got large bowls of rice. Maybe it was because of what they ordered. In any case, I am sure we could have asked for both more plates and more rice. We were just lazy. Ice tea was very nice. Staff was very, very pleasant. They seems happy to be so busy.

        Service was a little slow but no doubt they were slammed because of the review. There were many more tables filled at lunch time than I remember from a previous visit and the phone was ringing off the wall. It did take a while to get our check, etc. but we were in no hurry.

        The portions seemed a little smaller than the dishes from the Chinese menu at Red Lotus (for about the same price) but we still had a takeout box, and, as with the Dan Dan, the Ma Po made great leftovers.

        I probably won't get back until after the holidays, but I am looking forward to trying more items on their menu. Will report when I return.

        1. Have had a Chinese co-worker (not Chinese American) go here and really enjoy it. That is all I can say about it at this time. It is in the old Pao Lim spot. Also the name of the place in Carrboro is Gourmet Kingdom.

          1 Reply
          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

            Thanks for the correction. Yes, I meant Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro.

          2. I've eaten at Happy China twice recently and I've enjoyed it both times. I've had the fish in Szechwan sauce and the dry sauteed green beans. For such a simple dish, the green beans are outrageously good - lightly charred and tossed in a spicy sauce. I could eat a whole lot of that dish. The fish in Szechwan sauce had a pleasant spice and made for a nice warming dish on a chilly winter evening. I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of the menu. It seems like they're doing good business so hopefully they'll be successful in that location.

            1. We had a less than stellar first impression when we first tried them for lunch. The shrimp in garlic sauce was noticeably sweet. However we went back last weekend for take out and it was much better. The Hot & Sour Soup was peppery and right. Others have commented on the dry sauteed string beans and I agree that they are delicious. The Ma Po Tofu off the Szechuan menu, though, was great (if you like spicy). It drove me to tears in a good way. Will be back to check out some of the other choices.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PeterB

                I tried them a couple of weeks ago and got shrimp in garlic sauce and dan dan noodles. I wouldn't recommend either one - the shrimp dish was well cooked but disgustingly sweet. The dan dan noodles were heavy on the peanut butter and also very sweet. The vegetable dumplings were not great either - skin too thick. I want to give them another try though, since some of the other reports sound good.