shrimp toast, Hong Huah

Can you remember the last time you ate shrimp toast that wouldn’t make an appropriate substitute for a racquetball? What about hot-and-sour soup that didn’t seem like it was harvested from a pneumoniac’s hanky. Nostalgia for that sort of Americanized Chinese food sustains uncountable substandard operations, and it’s rare that you find really notable examples of it. And yet everybody has their regular. Personally, I’m partial to the House of Wah Sun in North Center. But if I lived closer to Belmont Cragin I’d probably switch allegiances to Hong Huah, a longtime neighborhood standby that traffics in Mandarin-style standards made with love.

Garishly lit, with enough wall-length mirrors to furnish a fun house, it certainly doesn’t look like much, but that shrimp toast? Damn. Half a dozen golden-brown triangular crisps bonded to a garlicky, batter-jacketed pillow of fluffy crustacean mousse ($4.95). Why is this so hard to do?

Hot and sour, Hong Huah

Much of the food at Hong Huah is successful because it’s light on the cornstarch, like the hot-and-sour soup, which has shreds of pork, mushroom, lotus root, and tofu suspended in a silky, just barely viscous matrix ($3.95).

The spread, Hong Huah

That light hand is easy to spot in frequently slimy favorites like kung pao chicken and ma po tofu ($7.95 respectively). And there’s some serious smoky, breath-of-the-wok magic happening with the cumin lamb ($11.95) and Mongolian beef tossed with crispy rice noodles ($8.95). Anything I can say about the fried rice, chow fun, lo mein, egg rolls, or pot stickers isn’t likely to stand as a stronger endorsement than the perpetual presence of hungry cops.


Hong Huah

Hong Huah, 5924 W. Fullerton, 773-889-4800,