When pig ear salad (shown here with the pickles of the day) was the first dish that Chino’s served me during a recent media preview, they had my attention. And respect.
After all, I’ve been disgruntled by Asian restaurant openings of late. Cocktails are trendy and some of the places are indeed cool hangouts, but the food is often bland, bastardized, or just plain bad. Sorry, but I’m not into overpriced, poorly constructed dumplings, or sushi rolls made with jalapenos.
So, I was ecstatic to see that pig ear salad. The flavor was good, though I’d give up some of the green onions in exchange for more heat. That’s an easy tweak, and one the restaurant can help enable by offering chile oil on the side.
There’s a lot of pork on the menu. (Heck…Chino’s email address is “porkcentric.”) My favorite dish of the preview was the zha jiang mien, with perfectly cooked, thick and chewy noodles topped with minced pork, hot bean paste, and sweet bean sauce. The tinga tacos, made with braised pork and chorizo, were also tasty. The char siu pork will be a safe pick for some, though I found the meat rather lean. And, surprisingly, on this particular night I preferred the gua bao (a Taiwanese “burger” using a steamed bun, here dressed with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and crushed sweet peanuts) with fried tofu instead of the more traditional pork belly, which was just a little dry.
Granted, this is an early glimpse, and given Walter Lee’s enthusiasm in Chino’s kitchen, I expect quality to get even better over time. My take: A little more fat will go a long way.
There are two menu items I’m especially eager to try as soon as possible. “Blood and Guts” will feature all kinds of offal action, as it includes blood cake and tripe. And there’s also “Menudo de Chino,” a combination of offal stew and Taiwanese noodles that sounds tempting.
If you haven’t guessed, Chino’s is both Chinese and Mexican, serving dishes best described as Taiwanese night market meets Mexican street food. And while it’s also a cocktail bar (take note of my Singapore Sling paired with some furikake kettle corn), the food here is far from an afterthought.
My first impressions are quite favorable. It’s been a while since I’ve recommended a new Asian restaurant to my food-loving friends, and I’m looking forward to their feedback, and seeing how this one evolves.