The first time I saw Chows Chinese Restaurant, 3033 N. May Ave., my friend Nate was pointing it out to me as a possible meeting place for the Triad or some other organized crime racket.
Its always empty until late at night, and then its packed, he said.
I learned why later. Chows stays open and cooks late, which makes it a favorite of the citys culinary set, as they are often working until the wee hours. It is also intensely affordable, incredibly tasty and about as authentic as youre likely to find in the wilds of Oklahoma City.
Which might be a scary proposition for some. Authenticity, however prized, generally comes with a bit of a shock. Chows has many strange-looking dishes full of the parts of animals that many of us are not accustomed to eating.
You will start with the dumplings. At $6.95 for a dozen, you could not make a better decision. These are fresh. Fried or steamed, it doesnt matter. They are light and airy, and the pork and vegetable mix inside each one is delicious.
Egg rolls are fine, but the spring rolls ($1.35 each) are truly glorious little fried torpedoes of goodness. Crisp, flavorful and the right kind of greasy.
But man cannot live on appetizers alone. Ive tried. So youll have to move on to the entrees. And if one of those entrees is the steamed chicken with ginger-scallion sauce ($7.50 for half a bird), then welcome to flavor country.
The texture of steamed chicken, with its pale, flabby skin, is not my favorite; but when you peel it away, you are left with tender, moist chicken and a perfect canvas on which to paint the ginger-scallion sauce. You could smear this sauce on cardboard and it would be amazing.
If youre looking for something a bit sturdier, I liked the salt and pepper spare ribs ($8.95), which were straightforward and quite meaty. And the orange peel beef ($10.95) is a comforting reminder of how good your favorite Chinese dishes can be when prepared with skill.
The Buddhas Delight ($4.95 at lunch) is all vegetables in a light brown sauce, but its a really good light brown sauce. Enough to make you forget youre eating a bunch of plants.
Better still, the seafood Hong Kong noodles ($11.95) are a little exotic squid and shrimp and fish and vegetables and more with the weight and satisfaction of pasta underneath.
I liked everything about my stir-fried asparagus and garlic except for the garlic. As much as I love that abrasive root, I generally insist that its cooked. A big, raw garlic clove is just not my thing. Still, if youre looking for a big mess of tasty asparagus, this is your dish.
Chows is Chinese food done right authentic if you want it or classic Americanized Chinese food cooked expertly if thats what you prefer. And thats a rarity.