DINING REVIEW:

Set back in the corner of a mini-mall at the intersection of Pacific and Arden avenues in Glendale is a gem of a Chinese restaurant. In fact, that’s all the main sign says — “Chinese Restaurant.”

But its real name, written on the door, is far more uplifting — House of Joy. A family-run operation, House of Joy has been at this location for 25 years and in that time has amassed a loyal following of patrons, many of them Chinese.

They recently opened a second location on Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta where the menu is streamlined to offer mainly best-sellers.

While I wouldn’t call the cuisine at House of Joy exquisite with complex flavorings, their Mandarin Szechwan dishes are fresh, flavorful, abundant and not too fat-laden. I tried a number of these dishes at both locations and am here to tell you my favorites.

At the top of the list is their Mongolian Beef ($12.95). Beautiful, long slices of glossy scallions, white onions and beef combine with thin noodles in a distinctively spicy soy-based sauce. It has a zippy appeal to the tongue and the heat dissipates quickly.

My next favorite is their Kung Pao Chicken ($11.50). All of the classic Kung Pao ingredients are here but what makes theirs so good is their method of chopping everything to the same half-inch cube. Each bite delivers a little of every flavor and the sauce is evenly distributed. When it’s delivered piping hot to the table, it’s pretty great.

And they do deliver things to the table piping hot. The service is efficient and amazingly attentive. Waiters not zipping back and forth to the kitchen, stand around the dining room like military recruits awaiting orders and arrive at your table with a ready smile. That’s good because diners might need help with the menu; it’s so exhaustive that there’s no room for descriptions of dishes.

There are a few select photos but it would be nice to know, for instance, that Shrimp with Lobster Sauce has no actual lobster or lobster flavoring in it. It’s actually a mild, egg-y white sauce with a little black bean paste in it that is often used on lobster. And while there’s a copious amount of juicy shrimp, the sauce is unnervingly jiggly. I can’t say I recommend it.

The decor at the Glendale House of Joy is pleasant with low red lacquer walls separating booths upholstered in a contemporary print. Functional but not really charming. The warm lighting gets high marks, though.

The La Crescenta location appeals to my aesthetic sense a bit more with its red and light green motif. The many windows of this former Pizza Hut give it a nice, wide-open feel. It’s great for the family-style dining so popular in La Crescenta.

There are several dishes children will like here, especially the Orange Chicken ($11.50) and Honey Glazed Walnut & Shrimp ($14.99). My kids are quite the Orange Chicken connoisseurs, and they consider this the best.

I agree because the chicken pieces are juicy and only lightly battered and fried, rather than deep-fried to hard nuggets.

The sauce is sticky and sweet like the little ones like it, but I enjoyed the tangy marmalade and lemon flavors in it. The shrimp dish has the same light quality and fresh sauce. It seems like it might actually be healthy for you. Incidentally, all dishes can be prepared without MSG upon request.

I recommend going to House of Joy for lunch. It’s a great way to find a spot of peace in a busy day. Not enough can be said about the relaxing properties of a hot pot of tea, especially with some crunchy Chinese noodles to nibble on. Then, for a mere $5.95 to $7.95, you can choose from among 32 main dish options.

They all come with a nice cup of soup, an egg roll, fried or steamed rice, a wonton with warm cream cheese inside (mmm...) and of course, a fortune cookie. And while you can be in and out in 30 minutes, it feels like longer.

Most people have their favorite neighborhood Chinese place. You may want to add House of Joy to your try-it list, especially if you’re a Mongolian Beef or Kung Pao Chicken lover. I hear their Peking Shrimp is incredible, too.

Their fast, friendly service will have your take-out order ready in a hurry. Or come and stay for a while with a nice pot of tea.


 LISA DUPUY is a food lover and writer living in La Crescenta. She can be reached at ldupuy@aol.com.

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