By Emma Gallegos
If it’s lunch hour, my coworkers and I are probably at Hong Kong Plaza in West Covina, even though the plaza has gotten emptier and emptier over the course of the year.
It’s been a trying year for restaurants and anyone else angling for customers’ waning expendable income. The year was especially tough for businesses at Hong Kong Plaza, which is awaiting the arrival of a new supermarket called HK2 owned by a younger generation of the family that owned the Hong Kong Supermarket that used to fill the gaping vacancy in the middle as the plaza’s anchor.
But we still have a few expendable dollars, so at least once a week we’re back at the plaza visiting old favorites like Krua Thai or the 1+1 Dumpling House.
It helps to plan ahead and figure out what we’re doing, but we still feel confident winging it and driving around the empty parking lot blindly and picking our next culinary adventure: Should we try Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean or Thai?
Beijing Cuisine Garden exemplifies the spirit of Hong Kong Plaza adventure: quick, reasonably priced, fresh and intense flavors.
None of the dishes’ flavors are bland or halfway: They’re spicy, salty, oily and sometimes tinged with a splash of wine. When the food went wrong, it went too far in this direction.
There was a BMW parked out in front of Beijing Cuisine Garden and men in business suits inside the restaurant, but for those of us in a different tax bracket there are lunch specials, ranging from $4.95 to $6.95, that include rice and a soup of the day.
The waiter recommended the dishes in kung pao style, and, indeed, the dish that blew me away (and made me forget subsequent mediocre dishes) was the Kung Pao Shrimp ($6.95). Fresh shrimp tossed in with a flaming mix of bell peppers, onions and red peppers.
The Kung Pao Beef ($5.95) had the same addictive spicy sauce, which would have been a recipe for success except that the beef was a little tough.
There’s nothing that cools the palate like a plate of spiced cucumbers – unless of course you decide to add some jalapenos, as was the case with the Peking Cold Cucumber with Parsley and Hot Pepper ($2.95).
The dishes that had enough liquid to qualify as stews were weaker bets.
I mostly enjoyed Fish Fillet in Hot Bean Sauce ($6.95), juicy medallions of white fish and strips of tofu submerged in a red hot sauce with a hint of a rice wine. It could have stood to have a little less oil and salt.
My coworker could barely eat the Hot and Spicy Vegetable with Beef ($8.50), which came in a thick, brown broth that she said was also just too oily and salty.
Avoid the submerged dishes but try something new in Hong Kong Plaza. You don’t have to have a BMW. All you have to do is literally go the extra mile from the Westfield West Covina for something that won’t be bland, boring or overpriced. And, for now, there’s no traffic.
Beijing Cuisine Garden is at 965 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, and can be reached at (626) 851-8875.