Saturday, May 18, 2024

At Peking Quick One, making Northern Chinese part of Tonawanda

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Peking Quick One has expanded the definition of Chinese takeout for Tonawandans since 2010. As other businesses came and went in the plaza between Brighton and Eggert, the restaurant at 359 Somerville Ave. has been a steady beacon of Northern Chinese home cooking with an excellent Chinese-American program.

Owner Jinying Lin has shepherded her place through tough times, expanding takeout courier business to make up for the drop-off in dining room numbers from Chinese University at Buffalo students.

Owner Jinying Lin, left, and worker Wen Chen at Peking Quick One.

It’s counter service now, with food presented in takeout containers whether you’re sitting down to eat or not. Little else has changed. The fish tanks remain a balm to people waiting for takeout. Customers still help themselves to chopsticks and free tea, and pour water from pitchers in the dining room cooler.

The Chinese-American repertoire is fundamentally sound and priced to move. Get a load of the lunch deal: $6.95 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ($8.95 otherwise). That brings one of 25 entrees – like roast pork lo mein, General Tso’s chicken, or shrimp with broccoli – with a choice of white rice, vegetable fried rice or vegetable lo mein, plus spring roll or soup.

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Slip ciumber, egg with tofu, crispy chile chicken, fish with jalapeno, poached spicy slices of pork, sour cabbages stew with noodles at Peking Quick One.

That said, what most thrills me here is the Northern Chinese offerings.

Split cucumber ($6.95), the cold marinated cucumber salad alive with garlic, chile, cilantro and toasty sesame oil, is so addictively refreshing that when my child away at college was homesick, I sent them an approximating recipe to ease their pain.

Split cucumbers at Peking Quick One

Marinated split cucumbers at Peking Quick One.

Hot and spicy shredded beef ($10.95) is like marinated beef jerky Sichuan style, jacked with Sichuan peppercorn, anise and orange rind. It arrives in a corona of florescent tangerine-colored chile oil with matchsticked ginger as a vegetal crunch counterpoint to the meaty chew.

Hot and sour shredded potatoes ($7.95) and its less racy brother, stir-fried potatoes with green pepper ($7.95), demonstrate a quality of spuds only Chinese cooks have shown me: raw crunch. Matchsticked, then briefly poached, potato shreds are wokked for smokiness, then dressed with vinegar and chile oil. The effect is a vibrantly flavored pasta salad with snap.

Compared to other Northern Chinese specialists, Peking Quick One has a rudimentary dumpling department, from steamed pork with cabbage ($5.95) to fried pork, leek, shrimp ($8.45). Leekophiles will find big leek veggie fried dumplings ($7.95), a pair of empanada-sized turnovers, a happy place.

Pan-fried tofu with egg at Peking Quick One

Pan-fried tofu with Egg at Peking Quick One Chinese restaurant in Tonawanda.

Chinese egg dishes are underappreciated as unchallenging and universally appreciated comfort food. Pan-fried tofu with egg ($8.95), a protein-packed omelet gently browned in a hot pan, made me wish for buttered toast. Stir-fried leek with egg ($8.95) adds an allium cast and tomatoes ($8.95), a Chinese homestyle touch. Stir-fried leek with dry tofu ($9.95) adds a chewier soybean curd, the texture of paneer.

Those are vegetarian triumphs, if you ask for no pork, but vegans can get fed well here, too. Potatoes, string beans minus pork, crispy cabbage, bok choy and mushroom, and an eggplant, green pepper and potato saute are available, along with General Tso’s tofu, and vegetables in garlic sauce.

Sour cabbages stew with noodles at Peking Quick One

Sour cabbages stew with noodles at Peking Quick One.

Sour cabbages stew with noodles ($9.95) is one Peking Quick One dish that ought to appeal to Germans, Poles, Slavs and other sauerkraut-loving peoples of the world. Thick-sliced housemade fermented cabbage retains robust crunch after getting simmered with sliced pork and clear, chewy mung bean starch noodles, resulting in a tangy, satisfying munchfest.

Hot and chili chicken ($12.95) offers crispy chicken nuggets Sichuan style, coated in spices and fried twice, emerging half-hidden in a nest of whole chile peppers. The ensuing Easter egg hunt might challenge your chopstick skills, but there’s no finer bite than the last morsel emerging from the jetsam between your bamboo tips.

Hot and chili chicken at Peking Quick One

Hot and chili chicken at Peking Quick One Chinese restaurant in Tonawanda.

Poached spicy slices of pork ($12.95) is my other nomination for heat-seekers. Not for its blazing chile levels, but the flavor and sensations of carefully calibrated dual heats: tingly-numbing Sichuan peppercorn against resonant chile oil, a combination called “ma-la” in Chinese cuisine.

A chile oil slick hides cabbage, bean sprouts, sliced pork and chewy cellophane noodles, meant to be dragged out of the soybean-paste-enriched substrate, onto rice. (Not a soup. Do not drink.)

Poached spicy slices of pork at Peking Quick One

Poached spicy slices of pork at Peking Quick One in Tonawanda.

Less fiery, twice as rich, is spicy double-cooked pork ($12.95). That’s braised pork belly sliced and tossed in spices before meeting a hot pan, crisping amid a welter of chiles and garlic, plus an umami blast of fermented soybean paste. Bell peppers add vegetable bites, but this is some straight-up pig pleasure.

The big pig option is the braised pork hock ($15.95), a skin-on joint the size of a slow-pitch softball that’s been cooked so you can cut it with a spoon. Layers of skin, fat and meat give diners options.

Crispy fish in jalapeno ($12.95) offers impeccably fried slices of whitefish wok-fried with jalapeno chiles, a treatment whose texture survives takeout delays.

Crispy fish with jalapeno at Peking Quick One

Crispy fish with jalapeno at Peking Quick One Chinese restaurant in Tonawanda.

From mild to wild, these homestyle Northern Chinese dishes are fun for the whole family, at budget-friendly prices, ready in about 20 minutes. It’s better than fast food: it’s Peking Quick One.

359 Somerville Ave., Tonawanda, 716-381-8730

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.

Prices: lunch specials, $6.95; dinner combos, $8.95; entrees, $7.95-$15.95.

Atmosphere: quiet cafeteria

Wheelchair accessible: no, 6-inch step.

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