The Bride and I have fond memories of Guo Fang, a visiting Chinese scientist hosted by her dad in the 1980s, conjuring 13-course banquets of the most amazing Chinese food we’ve ever had. And, fairly or unfairly, we rate the Chinese food we’ve had since then to those meals. Unfortunately, little we’ve had over the years, barring two meals in San Francisco’s Chinatown, has made the Guo Fang Scale, although Old Thousand has impressively flirted with the scale, and we’ve found Tso’s chicken fried rice somewhat addictive.
Although China Family looks just like every other dime-a-dozen Chinese-American restaurant in Texas, it is a bright red chile pepper in a sea of saplessness. The first hint that China Family may be something special is that Matt Odam (Austin’s second best restaurant reviewer) listed it among Austin’s 50 best restaurants. That got the stomach growling. And now China Family, with its flagship on Airport and an outpost near campus, has opened up China Family Express in Northcross Mall.
With my first bite of a Crab Rangoon (4 for $5), an American-Chinese dish, I knew I was in for a different experience. Instead of being fried more than Dr. Timothy Leary, this rangoon was lightly crispy and doughy with yeasty wings that perfectly balanced the rich, cream cheese center and the somewhat submissive more-sweet-than-sour dipping sauce.
Odam recommended the Fish Fillet in Chili Oil ($18), and he ain’t joking. The delicate white clouds of fish morsels backstroking in a chile oil sauce flecked with peppers atop white rice were toothsome with just enough fire to buzz my mouth (and leave me wanting more). The Bride, always seeking vegetables, ordered the Dry Fried Green Beans ($14) and praised that they were actually dry and not souped with sauce and were expertly wok’d leaving them perfectly balanced between cooked and crisp fresh.
The star of the show has been the Chongqing Spicy Chicken (aka Laziji, a legit Chinese dish from the city of Chongqing; $18), a stir fry of marinated then deep fried chicken with dried and undried Sichuan peppers, spicy bean paste, garlic, ginger, and onions (see photo at top). This stuff is more addictive than cat memes, with each small morsel of chicken warmly wrapped in a blanket of ambrosial spices, infused with savourous intrigue, and just enough spank to spark the endorphins. Adding to the addictiveness, you have to hunt and peck the pieces through an avalanche of peppers, an activity that becomes more frantic as the cluck-to-pepper ratio decreases rapidly over time. If Mr. Meta was a chef, this is the dish he would have invented.
The menu at our Express outpost is more limited than that over on Airport. For example, the Odam-rec’d Sichuan Lamb is not offered at Northcross. And the space at the Express has more of a stylish fast-food vibe rather than the stylish restaurant vibe on Airport. China Family offers take-out but does not deliver outside of the usual third-party delivery services. With Omicron creeping around, we’ve only done take out, and our second order was bit messed up itemwise (we didn’t get everything) and timewise (the order was 20 minutes late for pick-up), but note that the Express is still in soft-opening mode, and many places are struggling with staffing (it appeared there was only one person there!). It all worked out in the end, and we had free dumplings to boot. We keep keep our patience high with our restaurants these days.
The prices I listed are for single entrees, but you can order one, two, and three entree combos that allow you to sample at a lower price. But either get a full order of that Chongqing Spicy Chicken or make sure each of you has your own side order otherwise you may be testing your marriage vows.
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor.
web&where: interwebs; 2525 west anderson lane #110; (512) 291-2946
what’s the deal? legit Chinese chow (sit down and take-out)
overall: *** (food*** ;atmosphere*; service**; instagrammability**)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)