You remember my first post at Yely’s Coffee Shop? Remember how sketchy I said it was? Well let me tell you, Yely’s doesn’t have anything compared to the next restaurant on Centre Street. Let me introduce you to Young Kong Chinese Restaurant. That’s right, Young Kong. But I’ll leave the name alone. It’s just too easy.
Young Kong, located on the corner of Centre Street and Estrella Street. This place is about as sketchy as it gets. Seriously, just look at that place. Sure, it has friendly light-up signs that advertise that it does Take-Out (I should hope they do Take-Out. Heaven knows the place was never meant to sit down and eat in). But below those signs is a run-down, dirty-looking establishment. The windows appear to be made out of acrylic glass (i.e. plexiglass), and they have that same foggy, scratched look that old acrylic glass tends to get. You can see where some people have used a pointed object to etch heaven-knows-what into the window.
You step inside and it just looks filthy. I’m not sure if it actually is dirty; it could just be the old, worn-down tiles and counter tops, but everything looks faded or crumbly or otherwise dilapidated.
Young Kong, by all appearances, is almost a literal version of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Certainly not a place that I would ever look at and think, “Now that looks good. I need to go there and try their food sometime!” No, no. But that’s the whole point of this journey. I go to places because they are there; they intersect my path. Not because they look tasty. That’s how you find those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that look gross but have impeccable food. My hopes are high.
As I mentioned earlier, Young Kong is not designed to be a sit-down restaurant. They literally only have one table. And that table takes up about half of the customer area. There are some of those candy machines with gumballs and Skittles and the like. I’m a bit concerned to wonder how long that candy has been in there. I would have to lose a pretty hefty bet to ever be brought to eat candy from those. And that’s saying something. I’d eat candy off the floor of a bathroom before getting candy from those machines inside of Young Kong. Okay, that was an exaggeration. I’m sorry. But you get the idea.
I step into the restaurant. I’m coming with my brother, Caleb. He’s joining me on this trip. He’s pretty brave for agreeing to eat here with me. He steps up to order. In case you can’t tell from the picture above, you order through this window, also made of acrylic glass, that has a hole cut out. This adds to the aura in a subtle way. You just get the feeling like the workers are trying to keep as much distance as possible from the customers. Maybe that’s for their own protection, which makes me feel more aware of how sketchy this area of Jamaica Plain is. Or maybe they just don’t like customers. Maybe neither. Maybe both.
Like I was saying, Caleb steps up to order while I am taking in my surroundings (what little surroundings there are in this tiny place). There are pictures of menu items to the right, and a big list of other items above the register counter. Caleb orders, and then I step up to order.
“What’s the best thing on the menu?” I ask. The woman responds by pointing at the folded paper take-out menu on the counter. I open it up.
“Yes, what is the best thing you make?” Her response is to now point at the open page of the menu. It seems clear to me that the woman does not understand my English, and perhaps simply thinks I’m asking if this is the menu I’m holding. But I look down and notice that the page she pointed to has the heading “Chef’s Suggestions.” A good place to start.
But there are some dozen or so items. I need her to decide for me. So I opt for body language. I shrug my shoulders and lift my hands and say, “I don’t know what to order.” She mostly just looks at me, smiles, and chuckles. This is not working.
The first item on the “Chef’s Suggestions” page is the House Special. You can’t really call something the House Special unless you’re pretty good at making it, right? Okay, well that seems like fair logic to me. So I point to that.
“$13.95,” she says. I pull my debit card out of my wallet. She shakes her head, still smiling (I still don’t know if the smile was nice or creepy). “Cash only.” Awesome. I did not come prepared for this. I only have a $10 bill. I glance down the page. Item seven is Delight of Three. That sounds fun. I go with that. $8.95.
After all that, Caleb and I sit and wait…and wait…and wait. I can’t remember exactly how long it took, but the wait was not short. Finally we get our food (to-go, of course), and head to my apartment to watch a movie.
Opening up my styrofoam container and box of white rice, there is a pretty decent portion of shrimp, chicken, pork, and vegetables. I tuck in. It was…okay. I mean, to give them credit, it was as good as pretty much any other standard Chinese place is. And while I have had some phenomenal Chinese food (courtesy to some college friends who were actually from China), most American Chinese food tastes more or less the same to me. It’s not bad, but it’s not that great, either. So I can’t really say the food was anything special. But it was fine. And really, the portions were quite good. I could have stretched it out to two meals, but I opted instead to gorge myself. No regrets there (which can’t always be said after eating too much Chinese food).
I have to say, Young Kong was a bit of a disappointment. I thought maybe that the dirty, grimy, dubious exterior might have been masking some hidden masterpiece of Chinese food. I was mistaken. Oh well. One of these restaurants is bound to impress me, right? Here’s to hoping.
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When you get further up Centre St to “Food Wall,” I know, promising name. You’ll find a similar atmosphere to this but better food I promise. So help me, if you don’t try the salt and pepper chicken wings, which are always on the specials board, you’re doing it wrong!!