Spice is especially nice at Wacky Wok

Hard to believe that before Wacky Wok came along, there was no Chinese restaurant in current-day Montrose. Yes, New Moon and Sun Palace are down the street, but the walkable heart and soul of Montrose needed a modern, casual Chinese spot. They've got one in Wacky Wok New York Style Chinese Cuisine.

My first question, and probably yours, was, "What makes it New York style?" The answer came from the host (who quadruple-tasks as phone order-taker, waiter and bus boy): "It's more intense, spicy and flavorful. Not authentic Chinese." After sampling a few items, I generally agree with this assessment. The menu items are generally old favorites, but the preparation is a little more robust, with thicker, stickier sauces, a generous amount of meat and a propensity to spiciness.

Wacky Wok took over the beloved Gail's Bistro space. They wisely kept the vintage brick wall oozing with mortar, highlighting it even more with backlit wooden benches. They closed off the kitchen with a divider, which might have caused claustrophobia if not for the nice, high ceilings. The outdoor tables are pleasant on a warm night. The service gets a B+. It's friendly but uneven. On the plus side, we were offered ice water by a good-natured waiter while we waited for takeout. But on the night we ate in, we had three servers, so I wasn't sure who was taking care of us.

The food did arrive nice and hot, though, on big, modern square plates. My favorite is a toss-up between the chicken in garlic sauce ($10.50) and the curry shrimp ($13.95). The first features tender chicken pieces with beautiful green peppers and fresh mushrooms in a nicely seasoned sauce. The curry dish is Indian-style, not Thai, and wonderfully rich and satisfying, especially with brown rice.

My kids adored the walnut shrimp (actually walnut chicken with shrimp substitute) ($14.95). However, its bounty of deep-fried shrimp and mayonnaise-based sauce was a bit heavy for my taste. They also found the hot & sour soup ($6.50) "addicting." It is thick and hearty with a spiciness that hits your throat more than your mouth. And it's very good.

My husband loved the sweet & sour pork ($10.50). Tangy and full of juicy pineapple, it reminded him of his childhood. And we all liked the peanut sauce cold noodle salad ($6.50). Peanut butter and mayonnaise lovingly coat julienned cucumbers, grated carrots, bean sprouts and noodles that are as thick as straws.

I didn't like the Buddha's Feast ($9.95) due to its slimy oyster mushrooms, but then I never like Buddha's Feast. I got talked into ordering it.

The chefs at Wacky Wok don't seem to be afraid of MSG or cornstarch, mayonnaise or deep-fried items. I wouldn't call this place low-cal, but their dishes are full of fresh vegetables and proteins. The prices are average, maybe a dollar or two more than other places, but the location is great and the food is filling. You'll probably take home leftovers that heat up nicely the next day.

LISA DUPUY is a writer and mother of two incessantly hungry children. She lives in La Crescenta and can be reached at ldupuy@aol.com.


What: Wacky Wok New York Style Chinese Cuisine

When: 11:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: 2263 Honolulu Ave., Montrose

Prices: Appetizers, noodles, soups and salads $3.95 to $12.95; main dishes $8.95 to $15.95, lunch specials $6.50 to $7.95

Contact: (818) 249-9889

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