If you’ve ever eaten at one of the fine dining establishments located on Campus, it’s more than likely that you’ve run across the delicacy known as General Tso’s Chicken. Like pizza is to Italian cuisine, General Tso’s Chicken is one of America’s favorite interpretations of Chinese food. While you’ve probably asked yourself who General Tso actually was while enjoying the dish named after him (he was a Chinese statesman and military leader during the 1800’s, in case you were curious), you may also wonder what other options there are when it comes to the fine fare of Chinese cuisine. So for the greater good, I headed to four local Chinese eateries to find out.
Yau’s Chinese Bistro: 2.5/5
I stumbled on Yau’s Chinese Bistro while aimlessly wandering around south of campus simultaneously looking for something and nothing at the same time. I figured destiny wanted me to go in – or I looked it up on Google, who can remember. Cosmetically, Yau’s is practically devoid of any styling whatsoever, and as I walked to the counter the soul-crushing silence was broken only by the sound of Monday Night Football playing on a TV in the dining area. I went with the first item on the menu (I figured if they put it first it must be good), Sweet and Sour chicken for $8.50. After about eight minutes of not caring about football, the friendly staff brought the food to me, which was a nice touch. The food, however, leaves something to desire. The first thing that struck me was the rice to chicken ratio seemed to favor rice significantly, however the addition of fresh cooked veggies was a nice touch. Sweet and sour chicken is at its worst when it is bland, and Yau’s did little to give it a defining taste. The chicken was cooked well enough, but it felt as though it was simply dipped in sweet and sour sauce after the fact, giving a stale feel to the dish. I feel the best way to sum up Yau’s is they leave a lot up to interpretation, so unless you’re in the area looking to satisfy a craving or on a vision quest, Yau’s isn’t worth a special trip.
Panda Express: 3.5/5
Upon entering the den of the corporate panda, I noticed the distinct orange and red paint accompanied by a few random pieces of Ohio State paraphernalia hung around the restaurant. I assume this was done in some attempt for the food giant to relate to the yokels who patronize their outlet. As far as the auditory experience, I am proud to say I did not recognize the generic pop music that was being played as I walked up to the counter. Panda Express is a fast food joint, or a “fast casual nonchalant eatery” as they would probably prefer to be called. Of course, their food prep process is evidence of this; since making each item in limited quantities and leaving it out for unknown amounts of time doesn’t necessarily scream class. However, one benefit of the food being prepared before walking into the door, is that the wait times are practically non-existent. As for the food itself, I opted for Beijing Beef and their signature Orange Chicken with a side of fried rice for $6.80. Overall, the food was not bad, even bordering on good. While the Orange Chicken managed to please as it always does, I found the beef to be a tad tough and the rice tasted a bit like it had been out for an hour too long. If you can get past the soulless nature of Panda Express, the speed, food quality and value are all more than enough reasons to visit if you ever need a quick Chinese fix.
Mark Pi’s: 4/5
Walking up to Mark Pi’s, I noticed the distinct cosmetic wood adornment that graced the outside of the establishment and was pleased to see the styling was kept consistent inside the restaurant as well. The hanging lanterns, aesthetic wood structure and even the framed dead butterflies all gave a very personal and handcrafted vibe to Mark Pi’s, which put me in the mood for whatever they were cooking. Not being familiar with the menu structure, I opted for the titular Mark Pi’s chicken for $7.25, since I figured they either named the place after the chicken or the chicken after the place, but either way it should be good. While I waited, I was kept entranced by the sweet sounds of early 90’s R&B for the approximately seven minutes it took for the food to be prepared. The chicken was served in a healthy (disclaimer: don’t quote me on the health benefits) portion on top of a bed of rice. As I dug in, I was ensconced in the wonderfully cooked chicken which echoed the sweetness of General Tso’s or Orange Chicken, but had a tang of spice that allowed the flavor to be original. While the rice was cooked to perfection, the lack of any seasoning or vegetables did make the flavor wear thin towards the end of the meal. Overall, Mark Pi’s did not disappoint, the high quality of the food and the atmosphere can give you delusions of being at a restaurant in China, which definitely makes Mark Pi’s worth visiting.
Joy’s Village: 5/5
Joy’s Village is an underground (literally) Chinese restaurant that does everything in its power not to fall into the “Americanized” category epitomized by General Tso’s. The underground mall location of Joy’s can seem a bit strange to some people, especially with its relatively simple set of visual flourishes and somewhat dim lighting, but do not let that throw you off because the culinary delights of Joy’s are separate from the space and time they were created in. As I walked into the restaurant, I was intoxicated by the wonderful scent of the establishment, which seemed to be comprised of the various dishes combining into one sublime olfactory experience– it smelled good, so to speak. The only sounds that accompanied my 10 minute wait were those of the kitchen and the clattering of utensils on plates, serving to increase my appetite for the $7.75 Mongolian chicken I had ordered. I was pleasantly surprised to see the receipt had the order written in both English and Chinese, leading me to believe Joy’s was the real deal. The food only bolstered that sentiment, as I was ensconced in its aroma and presentation. With the chicken served with vegetables in a broth and the rice served on the side, it is safe to say Joy’s was the most complete meal I had come across. The food itself was an experience, with the delicious non-breaded chicken being perfectly complemented by the vegetables and fluffy rice, and like a great movie, I didn’t want it to end. Joy’s was the most authentic restaurant I had the pleasure of patronizing, with that authenticity came some terrific Chinese food in a one of a kind location; whether a Chinese food fanatic or a casual eater, Joy’s is definitely worth your time.