324 Euclid Avenue #405, Lincoln Park
High, high, higher, Lordy!
I’m watching Kimberly pile her plate so high, it’s wobbling.
“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s whatever you can load in the bowl.”
And, man, what she can load is a lot. On top of all the vegetables and fruit, she weaves a crown of noodles like a Marie Antoinette hairdo, puts on still more, then hands it to Jesús on the other side of the buffet counter.
Jesús throws it all on the Mongolian hot plate before the pile collapses. He stirs it around: broccoli, spinach, pineapple, half a dozen different sauces (from lemon to garlic), plus cucumber and a whole lot of other veggies. Then he stirs chunks of beef into the mix.
I swear... This is the best eating deal west of the Rockies. Kimberly’s paying $6.49 for it. And if she’d stuck to only veggies, she would have gotten it for $4.99.
“The best deal is the $3.99,” she says. “It’s not on the menu — you have to ask. But you get noodles, plus veggies, plus one meat. I have it all the time. Or, if I’m really stuck, they have a wonton soup for $2.75 that’s pretty filling, too. The small serving of that’s only $1.50.”
This is Asia Wok. It’s part of the Market Creek complex here at Euclid and Market in Lincoln Park. Asia Wok has the corner property with the dome. That’s the main thing you notice when you come in: the mural of people from around the world painted inside the dome.
This place has been here for three years, at least, while other places in this “restaurant row” have come and gone.
They must have some secret — I guess it’s that giant round grilling table, plus the tiny prices.
After Kimberly’s done, I take a closer look at the choices. You pay $4.99 for veggies and noodles, $6.29 for any of the meats and noodles, $6.99 for seafood and noodles, and the same price for seafood, meats, and noodles. Plus there’s pineapple, broccoli, green and red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach leaves…a whole bunch of healthy stuff you can add yourself, along with oodles of noodles.
Or you can go for a one-item “combo” of fried rice, white rice, or chow mein (stir-fried noodles), plus one item, like kung pao chicken, for $4.79. With two items, it’s $5.99. A three-item combo is $6.99.
These are deals.
While Lisa, the girl at the counter, deals with other customers, I read up on the legend of Genghis Khan’s warriors. It’s displayed on a big extractor fan’s housing behind her. It talks about how the warriors would handle their chow as they scoured their way through Europe and Asia: “Using their swords, the warriors would prepare slivers of meats, combined with whatever vegetables and spices they had on hand. They piled their food high upon their war shields and grilled them over a hot blazing fire. This type of cooking has become known the world over as Mongolian Barbecue.”
Oh, what the heck. I go the Genghis Khan route.
“Mongolian,” I say to Lisa. “With shrimp.”
She hands me a blue-and-white bowl. “Just fill it up,” she says, “and then the cook will add your shrimp and — ”
“Toss it on the Mongolian barbie?” I ask.
“Exactly,” she says.
So, now I’ve filled my bowl with broccoli, spinach, cucumber, red bell pepper, green pepper, slices of apple, pineapple, plus tons of noodles. I’m about to hand it over when Lisa comes around from behind the counter.
“No,” she says. “You need to put everything on, to give it flavor.”
She takes my bowl and heads to the end. That’s where all the sauces and oils are.
She grabs a long ladle and one by one spreads Mongolian sauce, teriyaki sauce, garlic sauce, hot oil, ginger sauce, lemon sauce. I hadn’t thought to lay any of these on.
“You like it hot?” she asks.
“Heck, yes,” I say. So, ulp, she pours on two big dollops of pepper-drenched hot oil. She hands the whole thing off to Jesús, and he upends it. Fawoom! Big cloud of smoke. When it clears, he’s tossing my bunch of raw shrimp into the mix.
Actually, this whole Genghis Khan Mongolian barbecue myth is, well, a myth. Turns out, the thing started in 1951 in Taipei. The idea was to get customers caught up in the romance of the Golden Horde, tearing into town, cutting up crops and cattle with their razor-sharp swords, and cooking the lot on their upturned shields. The first actual Mongolian barbecue restaurant opened in 1976, in downtown Taipei.
Part of the appeal was that it made a great show. You could feel like a warrior yourself, creating your own meal from the day’s pickin’s. And with cooks struttin’ ’round the huge griddle, cooking several meals at the same time, it all felt untamed and smoky, like a big circular campfire. Like the Turf Supper Club, but wilder.
Jesús walks around the round grill, too, scraping and clanging. Then he’s hauling my stuff off the griddle and scooping it back into the bowl it came from.
He hands it to me, a squirming, steaming snake pit of noodles and shrimps and veggies. And, spicy-hot? Oh, man. Burning. Put too much on. I shouldn’t have acted so iron-gut hotshot with Lisa.
It takes getting used to, but I do. And then, gradually, the flavors come through. The ginger, the pineapple, the teriyaki, the lemon. Not to mention the shrimp. I bet there are a dozen in there.
I come out sweating but full and happy. And only $7.55 poorer, including 56 cents for tax.
- Prices: Mongolian Grill, $4.99 (veggies, noodles); $6.29 (meats, noodles); $6.99 (seafood, noodles): combo of fried rice, white rice, or chow mein with one item (e.g., kung pao chicken), $4.79; with two items, $5.99; three items, $6.99; curry chicken, $5.99; volcano chicken in sweet-and-spicy sauce, $8.99
- Hours: 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., daily
- Buses: 3, 4, 5, 13, 916, 917, 955, 960
- Nearest bus stop: Euclid Avenue Transit Center at Market and Euclid
- Trolley: Orange Line
- Nearest trolley stop: Euclid Avenue