by Eric Ginsburg
In my relentless quest to find quality food, especially overlooked international restaurants subsiding in pockets of the Triad cities, several people suggested I’d missed something important. Hakka Chow, some argued, lies at the end of the search for superior food from various Asian nations, at least as far as Winston-Salem goes.
When it comes to the culinary reputations of the Triad’s cities, Greensboro consistently receives higher marks than Winston-Salem for the variety and quality of available international food. There are plenty of worthwhile restaurants serving international fare in the Camel City, and I’ve made it a point to write about places such as Golden India, Thai Sawatdee, Taco Riendo 3, Sampan Chinese, Uncle Desi’s Jamaican and Mizu Japanese.
But a perception exists that Greensboro is home to better Vietnamese, Thai and Korean options in particular, a perception that I’d argue is totally valid, especially when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine. To that, some Winston-Salem residents have countered that I couldn’t speak authoritatively unless I had tried Hakka Chow.
The restaurant on the southwest side of the city in a large shopping center is built out like a PF Chang’s — it’s massive, but it managed to do steady business on lunch on Monday. The menu is an amalgam of culinary traditions from countries as far flung as India and Mongolia, tapping into nations throughout the continent including China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.
I haven’t seen some of these options anywhere else around here, such as Korean BBQ beef naan flatbread, Mongolian tofu and kimchi cheese fries. But as interesting as these sound, I wanted to get at the heart of Hakka Chow to see how the claims hold up.
Considering that Hakka Chow offers more than 100 different things, a comprehensive survey would be relatively impossible without much deeper pockets or countless visits over time. Instead, a representative sample of three entrees, one appetizer, two soups and a salad will have to do.
The restaurant’s enthusiasts are certainly onto something, particularly when it comes to the Hakka traditional chicken curry on the lunch menu. The Indian-style dish with yellow curry, onions, potatoes, green peas and carrots, and garnished with cilantro stood head and shoulders above the other dishes my friend and I tried, its bold and distinctive flavors making it worth my midday drive from Greensboro.
Lunch specials come with a soup or salad, and like the Hakka curry entrée, the curry chicken coconut soup is a delight. The mushroom, lemongrass and scallions add welcome dimensions to the flavorful appetizer, and though I have no complaints about the wonton soup, its curry counterpart helped make the meal memorable.
Based on these two dishes, I’d extrapolate that the other curries — including a Malaysian chicken curry, and Thai red and green curries — are particularly savory.
But as I tried the Korean BBQ spicy pork bulgogi and the Vietnamese vermicelli bowl with lemongrass beef, I couldn’t help but think about experiences ordering the same thing at other restaurants. They lacked the flavorful nature and maybe the freshness of the bulgogi at Don Japanese Asian Restaurant or the vermicelli bowl at Van Loi II, both in Greensboro.
Similarly, the imperial rolls appetizer, a Vietnamese beef starter recommended by our server, didn’t leave us raving.
To be fair, “raving” is a pretty high standard. And when it comes to the two curry things we tried, we both left pretty impressed.
As we ate, my mind drifted to other Asian restaurants in Winston-Salem, like Xia where I enjoyed the Thai peanut noodles and a heaping bowl of pho. I wondered how Downtown Thai — which I still haven’t tried — compares as well.
Hakka Chow is a family-run restaurant, with the husband-and-wife duo on hand. They have close ties to Bernardin’s and Bleu Restaurant & Bar, two similarly upscale restaurants in town. That and the couple’s history — our server said the pair is Chinese but both spent formative years in India — helps explain where Hakka Chow is situated in the city’s scene, and who it’s designed to appeal to.
I’d be more inclined to bring a large group, maybe consisting of family, coworkers or friends of friends I didn’t know as well, to Hakka Chow than most hole-in-the-wall type international restaurants I often frequent. The menu and aesthetic cater to cautious eaters who might feel more comfortable with some of the sushi items or something listed under “classics,” like kung pao chicken. The variety also makes it a safer choice for a first date, or a meet-the-parents type scenario.
But some elements of Hakka Chow — like the chicken curry — not only make it stand out, but distinguish it from the pack in Greensboro as well.
Just last week, a friend’s coworker raised her desire for a dim sum place in the Gate City, a common complaint among more adventurous eaters. Why is it, she asked that somewhere as near as Durham can support such venues and Greensboro can’t? And yet here’s a mid-length dim sum list, with Cantonese pork sui mai, Shanghai spare ribs, Kobe beef dumplings, lettuce wraps with pork belly, and more.
It’s a good reminder that there’s always more to explore close to home, even if, like me, you’ve been to Hakka Chow once before.
Visit Hakka Chow at 615 St. George Square Court (W-S) or at hakka-chow.com.