Real Chinese food is nearly impossible to find anywhere in the central United States. There is plenty of Americanized Chinese food around, most of it deep-fried, oily, and swimming in sticky sauce. Superbuffets overflowing with deep-fried meaty bits in sweet red sauce, weirdly soft beef bits in brown salty sauce, unidentifiable pork bits in clear salty goo, or broccoli, peas and carrots with tofu in spicy sweet-sour sauce sort of sum it up around here. No wonder the food police are out to get Chinese food—all that fried greasy saltiness is just irresistible to Americans. And when people go to buffets, they completely lose their minds. I have seen people eat four or more platefuls of food at a sitting.
I guess I don’t blame the restaurants as much as I blame the market for buffet atrocities and all that fried junk. If people wanted to eat authentic-tasting Chinese food they would demand it, right? I have friends who own Chinese restaurants and they tell me that if they try to make food that is “Chinese tasting” that people don’t like it and won’t buy it. They also say that the real stuff is too expensive to make and that customers only want cheap Chinese food. They save real cooking for family and friends.
I have found one place that dares to compromise. Lee’s Chinese Restaurant offers not only their regular Americanized menu, but a separate (and truly superior) Chinese menu. When I go, I ask for that. The Lees have been in business for more than 30 years, and their Chinese dishes are delicious. You can get pressed duck that is spiced and crisp, Ma Po Tofu in a hot-as-hell sauce with ground chicken, steamed Chinese cabbage with garlic, and spicy pork with black beans, all well-prepared and delicious. Cindy Lee and her husband are always there, checking on tables and making your food. Lee’s is tucked away on West Kellogg, between Shepler’s and a naughty gift store called Patricia’s. It’s totally worth the trip.