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A Wei Wei Asian Express Xmas

Chinese take-out owes holiday color to red chili flakes, green onions... strawberry, and basil?

A take out holiday feast of strawberry chicken, vegetable chow fun, steamed pork dumplings, and basil beef
A take out holiday feast of strawberry chicken, vegetable chow fun, steamed pork dumplings, and basil beef

If there’s a fine line between tradition and cliché, no action straddles it better than ordering Chinese take-out on December 25th. Noodles, dumplings, mistletoe — all swirl together in whichever part of the brain nostalgia and hunger meet to cook up seasonal cravings.

Place

Wei Wei Express

6465 University Ave., San Diego

At my house, I was tasked with checking ahead to make sure a close-by restaurant would be open to fuel a two-day binge of takeout and leftovers. And I’m glad I did, because though it would prove to be open, it turned out the place I had in mind streamlines its Christmas Day operation to limited hours.

Only recently did I realize this shop I had been driving past for ages is not a Pei Wei Asian kitchen — the nationwide, fast-casual offshoot of P.F. Chang’s, which has one location here, in the Mission Valley mall. The sign I’d been misreading actually says: Wei Wei Asian Express. an independent, local outfit, operating two counter shop locations: one in Rolando, another in outer La Mesa.

Wei Wei Asian Express in Rolando

Most days, each location offers take-out and delivery from lunch through dinner — its own free delivery service too, not merely third-party apps. But on Christmas, their hours were shortened, from 11 am til 4pm only. Online ordering was turned off, but an efficient Wei Wei machine was turned on.

When I walked into the small shop to retrieve my food, a team of young adults kept busy behind a counter to produce a consistent output of wrapped up take-out orders. White plastic bags filled the counter, packed tightly with the likes of orange chicken, kung pao shrimp, chow mein noodles, and a passably good ramen for under ten bucks.

Wei Wei Asian Express in La Mesa

For those in the know, I would bet most orders included Wei Wei’s crispy salt and pepper wings ($15/dozen, $8/half). All things considered, the breaded and fried wings may be the best menu item, dressed simply with garlic, green onions, and chili pepper flakes, plus a “secret seasoning.” If that secret doesn’t involve the MSG-word, then I’m entirely at a loss for why I can’t get enough of them.

Overall, Wei Wei can be a little hit or miss. I’ve found the noodle dishes mostly forgettable, the best being the vegetable and wide rice noodles chow fun ($10.50). The steamed pork “dragon buns” ($7.25/half-dozen) are fairly standard, comparable to a good grocery store brand. And it’s tough to go wrong with the assortment of Chinese-American restaurant favorites, breaded-and-fried entrees such as walnut shrimp, orange chicken, lemon chicken, or sweet and sour anything.

Salt and pepper wings with red chili flakes, green onions, and a "secret" seasoning

For a holiday twist, I decided to try a similar dish, somewhat unique to Wei Wei: strawberry chicken ($12.20). Yes, it’s basically orange or lemon chicken, but switch the fruit. Rather than a citrus glaze, the fried chicken pieces are coated in, basically, strawberry jelly. It’s a sweeter dish than the others, which I found better with the help of Wei Wei’s red chili paste.

The most interesting dish may be the signature Wei Wei chicken ($12.20), also available as a beef ($13.20) or shrimp ($14.20) dish. It’s a sort of stir fry dish, only coated with basil sauce. I haven’t found basil in many Chinese dishes in my life — or in my research. It’s a pretty interesting dish — I detect a background of more-to-be-expected garlic, ginger, and soy, but the basil clearly wins out. Maybe there’s a bit of Taiwanese influence here? Or Thai?

Whatever the idea or tradition behind the dish, it tastes like Christmas to me now.

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A take out holiday feast of strawberry chicken, vegetable chow fun, steamed pork dumplings, and basil beef
A take out holiday feast of strawberry chicken, vegetable chow fun, steamed pork dumplings, and basil beef

If there’s a fine line between tradition and cliché, no action straddles it better than ordering Chinese take-out on December 25th. Noodles, dumplings, mistletoe — all swirl together in whichever part of the brain nostalgia and hunger meet to cook up seasonal cravings.

Place

Wei Wei Express

6465 University Ave., San Diego

At my house, I was tasked with checking ahead to make sure a close-by restaurant would be open to fuel a two-day binge of takeout and leftovers. And I’m glad I did, because though it would prove to be open, it turned out the place I had in mind streamlines its Christmas Day operation to limited hours.

Only recently did I realize this shop I had been driving past for ages is not a Pei Wei Asian kitchen — the nationwide, fast-casual offshoot of P.F. Chang’s, which has one location here, in the Mission Valley mall. The sign I’d been misreading actually says: Wei Wei Asian Express. an independent, local outfit, operating two counter shop locations: one in Rolando, another in outer La Mesa.

Wei Wei Asian Express in Rolando

Most days, each location offers take-out and delivery from lunch through dinner — its own free delivery service too, not merely third-party apps. But on Christmas, their hours were shortened, from 11 am til 4pm only. Online ordering was turned off, but an efficient Wei Wei machine was turned on.

When I walked into the small shop to retrieve my food, a team of young adults kept busy behind a counter to produce a consistent output of wrapped up take-out orders. White plastic bags filled the counter, packed tightly with the likes of orange chicken, kung pao shrimp, chow mein noodles, and a passably good ramen for under ten bucks.

Wei Wei Asian Express in La Mesa

For those in the know, I would bet most orders included Wei Wei’s crispy salt and pepper wings ($15/dozen, $8/half). All things considered, the breaded and fried wings may be the best menu item, dressed simply with garlic, green onions, and chili pepper flakes, plus a “secret seasoning.” If that secret doesn’t involve the MSG-word, then I’m entirely at a loss for why I can’t get enough of them.

Overall, Wei Wei can be a little hit or miss. I’ve found the noodle dishes mostly forgettable, the best being the vegetable and wide rice noodles chow fun ($10.50). The steamed pork “dragon buns” ($7.25/half-dozen) are fairly standard, comparable to a good grocery store brand. And it’s tough to go wrong with the assortment of Chinese-American restaurant favorites, breaded-and-fried entrees such as walnut shrimp, orange chicken, lemon chicken, or sweet and sour anything.

Salt and pepper wings with red chili flakes, green onions, and a "secret" seasoning

For a holiday twist, I decided to try a similar dish, somewhat unique to Wei Wei: strawberry chicken ($12.20). Yes, it’s basically orange or lemon chicken, but switch the fruit. Rather than a citrus glaze, the fried chicken pieces are coated in, basically, strawberry jelly. It’s a sweeter dish than the others, which I found better with the help of Wei Wei’s red chili paste.

The most interesting dish may be the signature Wei Wei chicken ($12.20), also available as a beef ($13.20) or shrimp ($14.20) dish. It’s a sort of stir fry dish, only coated with basil sauce. I haven’t found basil in many Chinese dishes in my life — or in my research. It’s a pretty interesting dish — I detect a background of more-to-be-expected garlic, ginger, and soy, but the basil clearly wins out. Maybe there’s a bit of Taiwanese influence here? Or Thai?

Whatever the idea or tradition behind the dish, it tastes like Christmas to me now.

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