As much as I love brown-bagging it, there are times when I’m in such a hurry in the mornings that I forget my lunch at home, causing me to flounder around in a sea of quick-stop eateries. Not that I don’t know what’s out there or anything; I just find that lunchtime choices are either overpriced or nothing but fast food. The general area where I work doesn’t have very much to offer within walking distance, so if I should forget my lunch like I did yesterday, I’m left with three choices: McDonald’s, Stonebrooks (a former Lyon’s), or this relatively new place called Hong Kong House. Since the service at Stonebrooks has been extremely slow the few times I’ve been taken there, and the McDonald’s on Watt & Manlove is particularly bad, I decided to see what the new kid on the block was like.
The first thing I noticed was how spotless the place was. I know that this restaurant is relatively new, but other eateries that have previously inhabited Suite 1 at 8887 Folsom Boulevard have never been quite as clean right after the noontime lunch rush. Though there were several people eating in the dining room or waiting for take-out orders, every other table was clean or being cleaned, and the floors were immaculate. The ordering counter was well-stocked with plenty of menus and bottles of soy, Sriracha, and sweet chili sauces, with whiteboards featuring their daily specials propped up beside them. I was greeted warmly by all three staff members at the counter, and they patiently waited while I perused the menu.
The selection is pretty much what you’d expect to find at most quick-stop Chinese restaurants. There are more than a dozen all-day specials featuring an entrée, choice of side, and an egg roll, their prices ranging from $5.95 to $7.95. Appetizers, soups, and a la carte entrée items fill the rest of the menu, as well as combination plates & dinners. Since it was my first time there, I figured it would be good to try one of the 1-person combination plates in order to sample a few different items. Personally, I would have preferred to play mix & match with the items listed in each combo plate, but as there was a $1 substitution fee, I decided to stick with what was offered. I chose plate #C – which included Szechuan beef, sweet & sour chicken, chow mein, and paper-wrapped chicken – grabbed my tall glass of ice water, and found a free table to set up camp.
I’d barely had time to take a few sips of water and check my email when my order arrived. And when I saw what was brought to me, I almost fell out of my chair. Truthfully, I was expecting a styrofoam sectional plate with a couple of tablespoons of each food item nestled in each little compartment; you know, the standard Chinese fast-food fare. Instead, I received a lovely flower-patterned plate piled so high with steaming hot food, I could have fed myself and a pro-football team with it! I had never seen so much food for such a wee price ($7.50), and I was instantly overcome with fear and uncertainty as to how I was going to tackle it. One bite at a time seemed to be my best bet, so that’s where I started.
Since everything was fresh out of the wok and super hot, I decided to let the paper-wrapped chicken appetizer cool a bit, lest I burn myself with steam. The sweet & sour chicken had the obligatory safety cone-orange colored sauce, but I found it to be a little less overwhelming in flavor than some sweet & sour sauces I’ve had in the past. The chicken had just been cooked and tossed in said sauce, so the texture was exactly what a quality sweet & sour dish should be: saucy and slightly crispy, as opposed to soggy and chewy. There were plenty of crisp onions & peppers, and large chunks of fresh pineapple, making this a pretty solid venture as far as sweet & sours go. I felt the Szechuan beef was by far a much better dish, with tender pieces of flank steak & crisp veggies tossed in a slightly spicy Szechuan-style sauce. I would have preferred the spicy heat factor to be cranked up just a couple of notches, but otherwise, I found this one to be quite delicious.
Next, I decided to open up one of the packets of paper-wrapped chicken and was very pleased with what I found inside. At many quick stop Chinese places, you’ll find about 4-5 tiny pieces of desiccated, soy sauce-bathed chicken that have become one with the foil paper in which they were cooked. At Hong Kong House, you’re presented with foil packets of large, tender chunks of chicken & scallions which have been tossed together in a reasonable amount of sauce, then steamed to perfection. I think the addition of the scallions made all the difference in the flavor of this popular appetizer, and it actually inspired me to give something similar a go in my own kitchen sometime. Lastly, I tried the chow mein. The noodles were accompanied by plenty of veggies and were not overly seasoned with soy sauce, but I found them to be just a tad too greasy for my liking. It wasn’t a bad side dish, and I did enjoy the sesame flavor undertones; I just would have preferred something slightly less oily to go with all the saucy entrées I had on my plate.
After a few bites of each entrée and side, I was officially stuffed. Perhaps it was all psychological because my mountain of food just seemed to grow with every passing bite, but whatever the case, it was entirely too much food for me. I was happy to learn that they were armed with plenty of take-out containers & bags so I could take the rest of my lunch home. But even though I was stuffed, I was still pretty satisfied at the value of my food: hot, fresh, tasty, and so much of it that it seemed unfair to charge so little (though I’m not complaining!). I love it when I can stretch out one restaurant meal into a couple, and this “one person” combo plate might even stretch out to three.
Overall, I found my first visit to Hong Kong House to be quite enjoyable. Clean restaurant: check. Friendly staff: check. Good Chinese fast food: check. Value: triple check! I probably won’t make it a habit to go there as it’s not the sort of thing I like to eat on a regular basis, and going out for lunch just wastes too much money. But as far as quick-stop Chinese eateries go, I liked Hong Kong House much better than the larger chain restaurants and will go back if my own homemade lunch ends up being left behind. Only next time, I think I’ll stick to the 1-item-and-rice specials. Now that I know what their portion sizes are like, I think that might be a much safer option for a grazer like me. But if you have a gigantic appetite or have several mouths to feed this is definitely one of the best food values in Sacramento. You’ll get what you paid for, and then some!