Taste of China: The hottest ticket in town

food-tasteofchinaThose aren't flat-screen TVs; they're backlit scenes o' China. PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

Happy diners, some of whom waited an hour for a table–- in a town where any wait is unusual–- savor the joy of getting served at Taste of China on Friday, March 12. Even though the Hook's Dave McNair tried to announce back in November that Peter Chang was a celebrated Szechuan chef quietly practicing his craft next to Li'l Dino subs at Albemarle Square Shopping Center, it took a March 1 "Annals of Gastronomy" story by the New Yorker's Calvin Trillin to break open the floodgates. Curiously, he still offers that goofy standard Chinese menu found at literally thousands of chop suey huts (for those terrified of his highly spiced cuisine). On a reporter's recent visit, he saw the overworked owner handing off the telephone to customers to handle the incoming inquiries, but the funniest part is what everyone who takes a queue ticket was told: "20 minutes."

–last updated 11:51am Tuesday, March 16


I love the ridiculous Gas log. If you don't have any plans for this weekend, well maybe we could make some.

St. Halsey you speak of Charlottesville in general.

Free Tibet!

"This thread is ridiculous."
-welcome to C'ville Col.

stumbled in yesterday for an early dinner. YUM! Definitely a different experience -- our dishes were tasty and LIGHT, subtle and sublime! Yes, a little disorganized, but the staff was friendly and attentive, not too long a wait (for us: can't say about the diners who came in behind us who had a much longer wait) but I enjoyed people watching and not being part of a corporate feedlot-style restaurant. I'll go back again and again, though definitely at 'off' times.

What did you have?

Love it or leave it "CC"...

Oh Gas log. I know transliteration can be hard, but Niu Pai is a much closer to the actual pronunciation. Silly me, I just can't help loving you more for that. Maybe I shouldn't have told you about my weakness, my heart is so at your mercy now.

Reality Check - I guess I will see. What I noticed at the time is that the real deal is usually very simple and was never as loaded with the sauces. It was good, wholesome, and simple, and depending on what region the chef felt like exploring, varied levels of hotness.

Obviously the Chinese have their banquette food as well. I guess I will find out where Taste of China fits.

In the time I was in Japan I always appreciated that what was the fare at home generally was the fare elsewhere, including in Tea Houses. But the Japanese definitely liked many Western things like hamburgers. They just used very high quality beef.

Before the sudden publicity, the service was always great, and never hurried. Now, both the kitchen and wait staff are overwhelmed. That's certainly understandable. If those who want to try it wait a little while, hopefully the furor will die down a bit. There's an ad in Craigslist for wait staff, so they're going to be training new people.

This is not the place to be ordering eggrolls and wonton soup, unless it's for your kids. Stick with what the chef is passionate about and you'll have an incredible meal. When we started going there, we'd let the waiter choose our food (that was when the waiters actually had the time to hang out and discuss the food).

This restaurant works best for people who are seeking Chinese food that's different from what they normally eat in Cville. If you're normally okay with Chinese buffets, or are usually only as adventurous as Kung Pao Chicken, then this place might disappoint you.

Caesonia, you'd love Taste of China. It's the real deal.

I heard the same thing, Stu R. Chang has a history of leaving his restaurants more than capable of continuing to put out very good food. People in Knoxville and outside Atlanta still rave about the places he cooked there. I'm hopeful that Taste of China will continue to put out excellent food of which Chang would be proud.

Ate there for the second time tonight. Arrived early, so the wait was not bad. My snap judgement: there is some food being cooked here the likes of which I have never had, which is very exciting. That said, it's not MY favorite kind of eating. There's a lot of heat and salt, and while the heat is often complex and pretty interesting, this is the kind of place I'd like to check out a few times a year. (But yes, it is miles better than any other chinese place I've been in town.) There is clearly a chef in the kitchen.

From what I understand traditional Szechuan food is lots of boiling hot peppers in oil. Sounds dangerous.

Calvin Trillin, and dozens, if not hundreds, of the Don Rockwell folks that track Chang and travel great distances to eat his food would disagree, butterfry.

We had Broccoli Beef Szechaun and the pork with cabbage and sprouts special, it wasn't very special.

deleted by moderator

Chicken chow mein? LOL.

Was it good? Yes. Was it worth the wait? No. Was it better than the other Chinese restaurants in Cville? No. Will I ever go back? Doubtful but maybe, if there is zero wait time since our 20 minute wait time turned into 1 hour and 25 minutes. Then the service was THE worst we have ever had in our lives.

I grew up eating most Asian cuisines in Hawaii and this is the best Chinese food in C'ville by far, except for the fake crab in the seafood pan-fried noodles. Spicy crispy duck was amazing! The vegetables are crisp and the sauces are not heavy nor greasy. We ordered off the "Chinese" menu rather than the "Americanized" menu (their wording, not mine!) The wait time for dinner is very long (and if you are first in line, don't be surprised if you are put to work answering phones!) but the food is definitely worth the wait. Make sure you aren't starving when you get there and then just enjoy the people-watching until you get your table.


This thread is ridiculous.

I work at University, from China. Taste of China not so good. Not go back soon.

2nd best Chinese food in town, IMO, behind The Dragon Lady on Ivy Rd.

Compare the wonton soup. Ambrosia at DG, dish water from Chang. Compare the duck. Traditional and boned and excellent at DG, but Chang can't bother to de-bone. He slathers on delightful sauce instead, and we battle the bones.

Chank does exceptional fish, if you like seriously hot and spicy. And from the rarity of the fish menu, it appears to be Chinese fish recipes, not the familiar Polynesian.

Feeling like eggplant, I had his chicken and eggplant with ginger & scallion in casserole. Cloud nine. It was superb!

I've eaten in scores of Chinese restaurants but Chang is the first chef I've come across who thought to spice up duck sauce. He could build a reputation on his duck sauce. Necessity was the mother of that invention. His egg role NEEDS a brilliant sauce.

We came in at 7 and had a 20-minute wait. The prices are low. The service was quick and so good we tipped 25%.

I haven't been there yet, but it defiitely sounds like a mixed bag. Maybe those odering the Americanized dishes were the ones who were disappointed. Well, since that is Americanized, I guess so.

I worked for Chinese restaurant many years ago and we all ate as a family every night for dinner. Then I got the real CHinese food and it was very different. I also enjoyed it more.Maybe that's how Taste Of China is.

I wish we had at least one good chinese restaurant out here in the stix. I am envious of you all. I have a wok and a rice cooker and I like to make it myself but would love a good meal served without having to drive 80 miles to the twin cities.

Before the mobs overran China Town in DC, there were loads of places at least as good.
DC's Chinatown has generally been considered something of a touristy joke in foodie circles.

No, my understanding is that the restaurants in DC's Chinatown were generally considered touristy jokes long before the MCI Center arrived. Chinese-born acquaintances said to avoid them altogether.

We DID read The Hook last fall and took friends from DC to enjoy a wonderful meal at Taste of China back then - including a table-visit from chef Chang after a mix-up on one dish. I have a feeling that the chef's tradition of moving location will probably kick in if the frenzy continues, so C'ville will probably not have his talents to kick around for long

@bruce overbite: "can't bother to debone"?! that's AUTHENTIC, not lazy! the CHINESE in CHINA don't debone their duck & chicken!

by your logic, if dragon lady > TOC bc it debones, mcnuggets >>>> everything because not only do they not have any bones, they are processed (the opposite of "not bothering?") so as not to resemble chicken at all.

Ah yes, a vanilla ice for desert. Great idea!

Wait, is Hawes suggesting that the Hook has less of an impact than the New Yorker and the Washingtonian? Perish the thought!

And I bet that Chang doesn't go anywhere near the "goofy" Americanized Chinese dishes.

I mean Ludacris. sorry.


Caesonia, you're correct, however this chef's best dishes are incredibly simple. Many Americanized Chinese restaurants rely on sugar, overuse of hoisin and soy, and "one size fits all" sauces. This chef doesn't.

Order off of the pictures near the entrance. Some of that stuff ain't on the menu! Also, ask the waitstaff for their recommendations.

Let's see... a egg roll, skrimp toast, chicken chow mein and a sprite.
Even fortune cookie was bad (in bed)...

People going to this restaurant expecting to be blown away by the egg rolls and wonton soup are fools and there is no point in trying to argue with their banal point of view. It's like expecting to be blown away by a glass of milk or a TV commercial. Do us all a favor and stay home feasting on the frozen burritos you bought at 7-11.

Those complaining about the service I would hope are discouraged from returning as that will only decrease the wait for those of us who have good taste and can appreciate fine cuisine when it is presented to us.

Different and brilliant aren't the same thing. If an average Chinese restaurant rates a 5 on a scale from 0 to 10, then Taste of China is a solid 7-7.5. Decor and service get a 5.5 It may well be the best Chinese restaurant in town, but that's like thinking the best Sushi joint in Charlottesville is something remarkable in the world of Sushi. In NYC or San Francisco, Taste of China would not stand out. Before the mobs overran China Town in DC, there were loads of places at least as good. I'm not saying it is not enjoyable, just that the hype isn't justified.


I did order the Chef's special, and I was sorry. Been twice, no more. Just because something gets written up doesn't mean we have to follow like lemmings. Good is good, Taste of China is OK at best.

FWIW WBF, 15-20 years ago, before the MCI center was opened, DC's Chinatown hadn't been run over by tourists. Consequently even if there actually were people back then using the somewhat embarrassing word "foodie" to describe themselves it's unlikely that even they would have considered the place to be a "touristy joke." Regardless of that, and touristy joke or not, the point was that there were loads of places at least as good there in the not too distant past and no one made a big fuss over them.

I too would flee a town divided such as this "Cville". Do the townies love/hate the "college school"? Who is eating at the restaurant? (BTW lemmings only make the trip once!)

To all you haters please don't come back- I been eating here for a while and I'm tired of waiting in the new long lines. It was better before the mobs got there and it will get better once all the hiptser foodies who turn up their noses and sniff "I've had better" go back to eating somewhere else.


Sounds nice "Cissy", let's go get sushi and not pay...

Uighur please...

I understand Chef Chang has already left ToC. Too bad if it's true. I'm still trying to confirm, but heard it from a very reliable source. Hopefully he passed on his recipes and techniques to a worthy successor.

Chicken chow mein? No, really.

Try the chop suey.

I went in expecting Chinese food the quality of those Chinese restaurants in China-Town. The food wasn't any better than the other Chinese restaurants in town, and the service was the worst I've seen in Charlottesville.

I'm convinced that those of you who are saying "it's nothing special" are the same people who would argue that the sky is blue. Some people are perpetual dissenters and naysayers, no matter what the conversation. I haven't ordered from the "Americanized" menu, so maybe that isn't anything to write home about, but the two Chef Specials we ordered were among the most special dishes we've ever tasted. The combination and complexity of flavor deserves its write-up in the New Yorker. Comments about the slow service ought not to even be considered valid contributions to the conversation anymore. We know the service is slow, and it's because they were written up in the NEW YORKER. Now that we're prepared for the slow service, we can make sure we're not dying of starvation when we go there, and then we can WAIT.

Not to be a nit-picker, but I am looking out the window at the sky- Right Now and it is gray. Not blue. I would also argue that "Americanized" when applied to a menu is a good thing for "Americans". Just sayin...

I found it some things very good and a couple I wouldn't order again. Would I go back? Yes! Five Spice Tofu was fabulous, lots of subtle flavors. Served hot instead of cold as listed on menu but it would be good hot or cold. Veggie of the day was done to perfection. The seafood combination over pan fried noodles was beautifully presented, generous with seafood and fresh. The fish & cilantro rolls were fantastic. I wouldn't get the scallion pancake again since not enough scallion. I also wouldn't get the squid with kung pao again. The squid were attractively scored so they looked like pine cones but they were very tough. Wine is an airline sized bottle of Gallo but the Chinese beer was great. They were very busy and the staff was coping as best they could and were very nice. The tickets are written in Chinese so if you are dividing up your bills so each person pays separately make sure you get yours written up on a separate ticket. Taste of China is a great addition to C'ville and a definite change for regular Chinese.