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Good Asian Grub: A Wok in Plano

Not On The Menu: Order Niu Nan Bao, tender beef and tendons cooked in a stew of bok choy, carrots, and turnips.

D Magazine intern Carol Shih prowls Dallas for the best Asian cuisine and also writes a blog about sandwiches.

Every month or so, my dad gets this craving for A Wok, a Taiwanese family restaurant in Plano, and moans about their fish fillets until we all get dressed and eat there for dinner. It’s become our go-to place of the century. Don’t feel like cooking tonight? Time for A Wok. It’s Christmas Eve and the whole world has shut down? Hey, A Wok is open. Located on Independence Parkway, this grungy little establishment has saved my family on several occasions whenever we needed Taiwanese food.

Chef and owner Steve Kang, a Taipei man with dark circles and the ability to ramble on a good bit, arrived in 1977 and has been cooking Chinese food on American soil ever since. If his customers don’t like a dish, he takes it off the menu. “It’s a success when six out of ten people like it,” Kang says. “You can’t please everybody.”

Buttered walnut shrimp with turnip and carrot sticks.

Business, according to Kang, has been so-so. Weekdays the place looks deserted when a few linger in to order take-out. On weekends I’ve seen a single waitress hustle around and work a full house, sweating her heart out. Most of the customers are Chinese or Asian, a fact that I attribute to A Wok’s shabby interior and a chef/owner who’s thinking of adding new dishes like “pigs’ feet on a bed of bo cai (Chinese spinach) to his 2012 menu. Not many would appreciate Kang’s choice of ingredients besides the Asian-leaning.

For those who aren’t the adventurous type, the buttered walnut shrimp ($10.95) is a safe choice and it arrives on a bed of cabbage that comes with crunchy turnip and carrot slices. I detest shrimp, but somehow I always end up ordering the buttered walnut shrimp because I like the mayo sauce and shrimp batter. (Kids will love this.) Chef Kang says the basil and chicken dish is also one of his most popular. Even though I don’t think it’s anything special (it is just basil leaves and chicken after all), I’m certain that people who like wimpy Chinese food would find this satisfying.

Basil and chicken.

Asian food-eating crazies, though, should go straight for the niu nan bao (stewed beef and tendon in a small hot pot). These tender bites of meat are cooked in a thick soup along with bok choy, carrots, and turnips. A waiter lights your hot pot with fire, keeping your stew hot and bubbly throughout your entire meal – a special treat that tastes best when it’s cold outside. (This item isn’t on the menu, so ask for it if you can’t read Chinese.) Order the bean curd Hunan Style ($8.95) if you’re not afraid of soft tofu. This baby – drenched in a garlic brown sauce and topped with red chili peppers and sliced pork –always hit’s the spot, according to my mother.

At A Wok, the milk tea is a great bargain at $1.25 with bubbles and $1.75 with no ice. Avoid the noodle soups at all costs. Even Kang admits his noodles are nothing special. If you’re that desperate, go to the Noodle House ten minutes away. A Wok is a restaurant for hardcore Taiwanese food enthusiasts who can eat pork belly and chitterlings without batting an eye. For those of you up to the challenge, welcome to my hood.

2 comments on “Good Asian Grub: A Wok in Plano

  1. D Magazine,

    I beg of you, STOP using the word “grub,” to describe good food. For one reason it is overused and sounds like a desperate attempt to be hip and the other because it is not an appetizing word. Pass this on to the Dallas Observer and The Advocate while you are at it because if I have to read one more Dallas publication use the word grub I am going to be convinced that our writers are incapable of being creative. Sorry if it sounds picky, just a suggestion. I could live with out the phrase “hunker down,” as well! ;)

    Thanks.