According to the Chinese Restaurant News, a respected trade publication, there are now approximately 36,000 Chinese restaurants in America. That’s nearly three times as many Chinese restaurants as there are McDonald’s franchises. That’s more than the number of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King franchises combined.
No longer considered exotic, Chinese restaurants are part of the fabric of American culture. There is virtually no American city in which Chinese restaurants aren’t plentiful.
A survey by a food product development company revealed that 39 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 13 prefer Chinese food over any other ethnic cuisine (interestingly only nine percent chose American).
The online Yellow Pages indicate there are more than 50 different Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque, some of which have several stores throughout the city. By sheer volume alone, you might think there would be more than the scant Chinese restaurants reviewed on Gil’s Thrilling Web site. You might also wonder why Scott Sharot only listed two Chinese restaurants (Ming Dynasty and ABC Chinese) in his outstanding book New Mexico Chow.
I can’t speak for Scott, but there’s a reason I haven’t published reviews of more Chinese restaurants. At the risk of not being politically correct and to paraphrase a stereotype, most of them look and feel exactly alike. For the most part that means mediocre to horrible buffets specializing in such American inventions as po po platters, sweet-and-sour pork, chop suey and Crab Rangoon. Meals at such paragons of mediocrity are generally finished off by yet another American creation–the fortune cookie (amusingly, a few decades ago, a Hong Kong entrepreneur imported “genuine American fortune cookies” into China).
I genuinely love Chinese food, the more authentic the better. To that end, I’ve dined at many of Albuquerque’s Chinese restaurants, hoping to find another rare, but precious gem. Invariably, most visits end up being disappointments thanks to the prevalent copycat template to which most Chinese restaurants seem to subscribe.
When I received an e-mail from Jared Hobbs raving about the Great Fortune Chinese Restaurant, I was naturally skeptical, suspecting yet another middling quality restaurant serving an abysmal buffet of syrupy, candied and heavily breaded dark meats. Research on the Internet revealed little about this restaurant other than its address and a review Jared himself wrote for a Web site no longer in existence.
A lack of information on the Internet isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Chinese restaurants; some of the best ones turn out to be relatively unknown–hidden gems, little holes-in-the-wall. They’re not as heavily patronized as the cheap “all you can choke down” buffets I disdain, but their patrons are unfailingly loyal.
It was indeed my great fortune to take up Jared’s invitation to try this small restaurant ensconced in a nondescript shopping plaza and sharing a roof with Sushi Hama, a popular Northeast Heights sushi restaurant. The Great Fortune is relatively devoid of the stereotypical gaudy trappings of the big buffet restaurants. A few colorful but tasteful accoutrements decorate the otherwise sparse walls.
The menu features all the American (and Americanized) Chinese favorites you’ll find at almost every other Chinese restaurant, but thankfully no buffet troth. Luncheon specials which include soup, an egg roll and fried rice are available daily until 3PM.
For certain menu items, you can request mild, spicy or extra spicy. Most self-respecting New Mexicans should be able to handle at least the spicy level.
My inaugural visit was scant days after Albuquerque’s first significant snowfall of 2006 so soup was definitely in order. In the winter, perhaps no Chinese soup warms you up quite as well as hot and sour soup. A small cup did indeed offer respite from the cold. The operative adjective would have to be hot, as in piquant and spicy.
In his review, Jared made the assertion that Great Fortune “has better orange beef than Ming Dynasty”–an audacious claim I had to either refute or validate.
The orange beef is very good, maybe the best I’ve had in Albuquerque outside of Ming Dynasty. The beef is sliced into thin, small bite-sized pieces and is slightly crunchy just like at Ming Dynasty. At extra spicy the orange sauce has a tangy piquant bite and unmistakable flavor of good orange zest, not at all like the lacquered sweet sauce you find at inferior restaurants. Surprisingly the spiciness didn’t come from a preponderance of those dynamite hot Thai peppers often found in spicy Chinese cuisine.
The Great Fortune brought to six the number of Chinese restaurants on Gil’s Thrilling Web site. I hope to have the great fortune to uncover other gems in the future.
2918 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 22 December 2006
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Orange Beef, Hot & Sour Soup