I’d have to say, in the 10 years I’ve been Yelp Elite, I have not been to many elite events at all. In fact, these days, I average about one a year, and that is only because it is a special event, or an outing to a restaurant I have not been to and am interested in trying. Therefore, when the invitation came through to check out Spicy City in Anaheim Hills, I RSVPed and joined other Yelp Elites for lunch on a scorching hot day.
My first impressions of the restaurant is that the decor is very modern and pleasant. It definitely has the universal appeal of attracting customers from all ethnicities. I find that usually, Chinese restaurants do not put the effort into making the surroundings a priority, and it is refreshing to see that it is not the case here.
I have to admit, I’ve been to the Spicy City in Irvine — once. I wasn’t impressed and never returned. I was hoping this location would redeem itself and in turn, I would be able to give the Irvine location another try.
I’m going to put it out there, I am not a fan of Chinese American cuisine. It is not reflective of what true Chinese food is, and especially, not the food I grew up eating. However, I am aware that it is difficult for a restaurant in the US to offer a completely regional menu because it will not appeal to a lot of customers who are not accustomed to the hardcore traditional foods I grew up eating. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when we were informed that our meal would include both traditional and American style Chinese dishes.
One of the most ubiquitous Chinese American offerings is Walnut Shrimp (核桃蝦 $15.99) often known as honey walnut shrimp. I’m not sure how this became a staple of Chinese cuisine, but all I know is, mayonnaise is not a Chinese condiment. To be fair, I must preface this by saying I detest this dish regardless, so it really doesn’t matter what I think because a lot of people love it. The shrimp in this dish has a nice snap and is not overly battered, while the walnuts are very crunchy. There was just too much mayo smothering the shrimp and walnuts, making it difficult to enjoy the natural flavors of the main ingredients. Less is definitely more in this case.
Kung Pao Chicken (宮保雞 $10.99) is often the “go-to” dish for people not well-versed in Chinese cuisine, but quite frankly, I love kung pao. I love spicy foods so the dried chile morsels really appeal to me. There are peanuts in this dish so if you have a nut allergy, stay away. This version is respectable and flavorful — I enjoyed it very much.
The next dish is another favorite of mine, but I’m not sure how it differs to kung pao chicken except the chicken is first deep fried before it is stir fried and there are no peanuts. Deep Fried Chicken Cubes w/ Red Dry Chili (辣子雞 $10.99) is dotted with dried chile bits similar to kung pao, but this dish is served without a sauce. Just choose one or the other — ordering both is a bit redundant.
Shredded Pork with Peking Sauce & Lotus Buns (京醬牛肉絲荷葉餅 $12.99) is presented with baos for you to sandwich the meat in. This was delicious, but a tad too saucy which made them very messy to eat.
For me, the traditional dishes are always most reflective of a restaurant’s quality and Spicy City did not disappoint.
Hot Sauce Beef (水煮牛 $12.99) is something I always order when I visit a Sichuan restaurant. It is spicy but extremely piquant and savory. The Napa cabbage is infused with all the great flavors, but I found the sauce a little too “corn-starchy”. We had the beef, but you can also opt for fish instead.
A perfectly executed Fried Rice Yangzhou Style (揚州炒飯 $9.99) arrives and I am impressed. The rice is a perfect consistency with the right amount of “wok hei” (鑊氣) — the heat needed to char and season the ingredients — to give it that taste I want with fried rice.
But there is one more dish, my favorite item of the entire meal. Steamed Fish Fillet with Hot Pepper (剁椒蒸魚片 $18.99) was enjoyed by all because of its complexity overall balance of flavor profiles. I especially loved the fried shiso leaves which added a burst of freshness to the palate. I highly suggest this when you dine at Spicy City.
I will always recommend traditional over American style dishes when eating Chinese. After all, Spicy City specializes in a regional cuisine not often prepared well here in the US. If you’re going to eat American style Chinese, then why bother going to Spicy City? There are a ton of others which will equally provide you with what you’re looking for.
5555 E Santa Ana Canyon
Anaheim, CA 92807