Panda Palace, Jade Garden, #1 China, Noodle House. Chinese restaurants dot every neighborhood, across every demographic, around every socioeconomic pitfall and paradise. They can be tattered looking, plexiglass-enclosed safe houses to brightly lit, neon glistening meccas of General Tso, Pekin Duck and Mu Shu. The menus are always ridiculous in depth, far-reaching and spread across the culinary landscape to squeeze every possible ingredient into a stir-fried confluence of deliciousness. And they are inexplicable. They are staffed by warrior-like operators that seem to always be there; open to close, at every visit we make, every day of the week. Everything is ready and waiting before we arrive and the kitchens never seem to stop moving. And moving. And moving. Yet, the clatter and din we most often associate with a busy restaurant is absent. The orders go in, the tell-tale cardboard box with requisite metal handles comes out, usually tucked into nondescript plastic t-shirt bags or brown grocery sacks, lined with the box tops from recently delivered fortune cookies or duck sauce. They are an anomaly of cooking technique, food handling and customer service. And it is profoundly craveable.
In exploring the fast food of the Chinese-in-America landscape, there were few answers to be found. This food isn't quite the styrofoam-addled, overly-sauced dreck found at the food court at the Mega Mall. Nor is it the street food we could find in, say, China. Rather, this is the food of the take-out places with lit menu boards, bells on the doors and menus piled high on the counter under a nub of a pencil jammed into bucket of rice for taking hasty phone orders. What follows is a glimpse of the fireworks in the kitchens (and sometimes the dining areas) of fast food Chinese joints that could be here, there or right across the street.