As a lover of food, especially food from other cultures, I find authentic Chinese food delightful and incredibly interesting. However, as a vegetarian, some Chinese restaurants do not offer a great range of options. I recently discovered a restaurant called China Chef, near Chicago, and want to share my discovery with all of my fellow herbivores.
Authentic Chinese cooking: China Chef boasts on their website that they offer delicious, authentic Chinese cooking, and I would have to agree. The founders, Joyce and Arthur Fong, made a commitment to their customers all the way back in 1977 when they first opened China Chef. This was a promise to use fresh ingredients, cook authentic home-style food with a huge range of flavors, and to make everything fresh for their diners. Well, they are still a busy restaurant after 40 years in business, so it definitely seems like they are doing something right. It is refreshing to see a restaurant, especially one that offers so many carry out options, using fresh, quality ingredients. The use of fresh ingredients not only makes the food taste better, it also makes it so much healthier, which is a great thing to find; especially in a carry out restaurant! On the website, they state that the specialize in Cantonese and Filipino cuisine, but they also have a wide range of bubble teas, which originally come from Taiwan. So if you are more familiar with the food of different regions, China Chef would be a good choice for you to be able to choose something specific from your favorite place.
Vegetarian Chinese carry out
China Chef has an impressively large carry out menu, which definitely has more meat and seafood options than vegetarian options, however there are plenty of veggie options. For appetizers, they have the standard vegetarian egg rolls, which are always a crowd favorite. They also have sesame noodles, deep fried sesame balls and a few different soup options. They have a vegetarian egg foo young and they have two vegetarian options for fried rice. One of the fried rice options without any meat is actually one of the most interesting things on their menu, in my opinion: a Pineapple fried rice. They have one vegetarian chop suey, one vegetarian chow mein and one vegetarian lo mein. So not a great variety of options for those specific types of dishes. They have a specific vegetable section on the carry out menu, which has nine or ten items, depending on whether you consider oyster sauce vegetarian or not. Nine to ten choices for a main dish from a Chinese carry out is a fine number, not the best, but definitely respectable. The choices are interesting as well. They have tofu as well as a good variety of different types of vegetables and they have dishes with varying degrees of heat. If you are a vegetarian who also eats fish and seafood, your options will triple. They have a large selection of fish and seafood dishes to choose from.
Vegetarian carry out lunch specials
Unfortunately, unless you eat fish and seafood, the number of vegetarian options on the special carry out lunch menu are fairly limited. You can get mixed sauteed vegetables, lo mein or fried rice, but all of the other specials have meat. With the limited options, this might not be ideal for you to eat every day during your work lunch, however, the owners have promised to use fresh local ingredients, so this would make a nice lunch option occasionally. Or perhaps more often if you are the kind of person that likes to eat the same dish frequently.
Special occasions and catering for vegetarians
While China Chef does have several options for enjoying their food in different settings for different occasions, the vegetarians seem to have been forgotten; at least according to their website. They have specials for family dining in the restaurant where you can pay for a meal with a set menu for 3-12 people that includes appetizers and mains for everyone to share and taste. However, none of these family menus has a vegetarian option. They also offer banquet dining at the restaurant for fancier occasions, again with set menus where you pay a set amount per table. They have quite a few options, including a kids’ menu, but none of them is vegetarian. China Chef also provides a catering service with a big menu of choices, and there are a few vegetarian options available, however probably not enough to cater an entire event for vegetarians. Though if you had an event with some meat eaters and some vegetarians, there could be enough vegetarian options to make sure all of your guests had a decent meal. Perhaps the owners and chefs would be willing to work with vegetarian customers to create a vegetarian set menu or more vegetarian catering options, it does not say on their website whether or not they are open to doing custom orders like that. They are a family-owned business with over four decades of experience, so there is a good chance that they have had to make special menus before in order to keep their customers happy and stay in business.
Overall impression: China Chef makes the grade
China Chef is not the very best option for vegetarians trying to find amazing Chinese food in the greater Chicago area. I was sorry to see that they have not provided for vegetarian guests when making their set menus, which will exclude vegetarians from enjoying China Chef for special occasions. But they definitely meet my approval for vegetarian carry out options. They make an effort to use quality ingredients, prepare their food fresh for their customers and offer a some interesting choices. Pineapple fried rice? Sauteed kang kong? Avocado bubble tea? Yes, please! If you are feeling the need for some authentic Chinese, head North from Chicago to China Chef, or order their take away online at www.chinachef.org.