Wah’s Golden Hen $5 Lunch Special Is The Real Jam
If you are a coffee or preserves fanatic then you likely have heard of SQIRL. This tiny daytime only cafe on Virgil and Melrose has taken the L.A. food world by storm over the past few months, with their local and artisanal jam covered toasts, bowls of oatmeal, and sugar free G&B coffee. It’s kind of amazing to see some of the stuff that comes out of this tiny space, and the jam is almost good enough to make you forget how much you’re paying for a piece of bread with preserved fruit on it. It might not be something I can afford to eat every day for breakfast, but it’s a worthy splurge to say the least.
But the price isn’t going to be the thing that keeps me away from Sqirl. More often than not it will probably be Wah’s Golden Hen, the dirty old Chinese food spot that you may or may not have noticed across the street. With it’s sign that touts “chicken & shrimp” Wah’s fits into the neighborhood in ways that Sqirl never could (for now anyway.) And it happens to serve the greatest Chinese food lunch special I have ever found in L.A.
My search for Chinese food in L.A. has not been an easy one. The westsider’s lament is a familiar one, being so far away (in relative terms) from the San Gabriel Valley or even, gasp, Chinatown. But forget about the “authentic” stuff for a second. I can’t even find some decent Americanized Chinese food, which makes ordering Sunday night dinner for this New-York-by-way-of-Miami-jew a real problem. I even launched a Cheap Chinese food challenge a few years ago, in which I agreed to eat at any gross looking strip mall Chinese food place in L.A. that any Midtown Luncher was curious about. There weren’t many takers, although I’m still open to any and all
The one good thing about the “Challenge” was it introduced me to a number of like minded cheap Chinese food lovers. Sesame chicken and sweet and sour shrimp aficionados who came out of the shadows to declare their belief that you can find delicious Chinese food in places whose phone number doesn’t start with 626. Admitting our love for regional Chinese cuisine, while reserving the right to worship New York as just as valid a region as Shandong. Believing that one day we can truly understand the crab rangoon, and what makes something seemingly so disgusting taste so good. And, of course, all clinging to the hope that one day we may get to meet General Tso himself.
One of those guys was Garrett Snyder, the sender of this bat signal and the new Editor of Tasting Table L.A., who discovered Wah’s Golden Hen and knew immediately that I would love it. And boy was he right.
The menu has everything you would expect a shitty Chinese food place on Virgil to have. Won ton soup, fried chicken wings, beef and broccoli, sweet and sour pork, and chop suey. But you’re going to find it hard not to order the lunch special. For $4.50 you can pick any three items from their lunch menu of 4 things: Pork fried rice, chicken chow mein, egg foo young, and sweet and sour chicken. But the best part is, they’ll give you all four for just 50 cents more. Plus, if you want to replace the sweet and sour chicken with sweet and sour shrimp they’ll happily oblige.
This was all $5, and it didn’t come from a steam table. It was all made fresh in the back. The first thing that got my heart pumping a little fast, aside from their willingness to give you all four items piled up on a single plate, was the color of the pork fried rice. Nicely separated, dry dark brown grains, spotted with egg, cubes of pork, and scallions- the only thing missing was the bean sprouts. You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to get fried rice like this, and yet more often than not you’re getting that waterlogged, beige fried rice with peas and carrots in it. Interestingly enough the benchmark fried rice from my childhood was from a place called Wah Shing. I wonder if there’s something to be made from that.
As for the chow mein, if you’ve ever been to Panda Express and thought “why can’t any sit down Chinese places replicate this dish in a way that makes it feel more home made and less fast food’ish” your prayers have been answered. And the freshness didn’t end there. The sauce on the sweet and sour chicken was predictably sweet and goopy, but it clearly got added over the freshly fried chicken at the last minute- which is really all you can ask for in situations like this. And the egg foo young? Let’s just say I’ve never been a huge fan, but this oniony version might turn me into a convert.
Clearly this place isn’t for everybody, and not everybody will take the same joy I do from this $5 mound of food that reminds me of a particular time during my childhood. But for that very special person, lunch at Wah’s is absolutely perfect in its own way. And if you’re like Garrett & I, you’ll likely still cross the street for a ricotta and jam topped piece of toast for dessert. We’re very special people, indeed.
Wah’s Golden Hen, 709 N Virgil Ave (just north of Melrose.) 323-661-0093