Dry Wonton Noodle at Chino's Fast Food

Over the years, I've gotten really sensitive to MSG (monosodium glutamate), the cooking additive Asians often use to enhance flavor. In addition to making me extremely drowsy, I sometimes get blinding headaches from eating a large bowl of noodle soup.

The problem is, I love Asian noodle soups. They're cheap, hearty and, for me, the ultimate Asian comfort food. So to get around this problem, I make a habit of ordering the soups dry.

A "dry" noodle soup means that the noodles are poached and served sans broth. To make the the poached noodles tastier, they are often tossed in some sort of sauce. The broth is served in a bowl on the side. I usually take a few sips of the broth to wash down the dryness, but my mom loves to just dump the broth into the bowl, eating it as if she didn't order it dry. She likes the added flavor of the dry noodle sauce, claiming that it gives the broth that extra punch.

For dry wonton noodle soup, my go-to place is Chino's Fast Food (12313 Bellaire Blvd, # O). Tucked away behind a pawn shop in what was once a dilapidated old strip mall at Bellaire and Cook, Chino's Fast Food is at once a food to-go place, a stop-off-at-the-end-of-the-day-quick-meal place, and a cheap-Asian-comfort-food place.

If you're familiar with Tan Tan, the food is similar, but where Tan Tan is now a large, sprawling, commercial-feeling restaurant, Chino's is still the quintessential hole in the wall.

The strip mall has gotten a recent exterior facelift, but inside, Chino's is still the same: same low ceilings with dim fluorescent lights, same brown laminate tables and retro-feel chairs. The floor is never sparkling, but the service is super-fast. About five minutes after I order, there's piping-hot food on the table.

I order the "large" dry wonton noodle soup, which gets you an extra helping of noodles, not wontons. The noodles are slightly chewy, the perfect Asian al dente, and the sauce is a slightly sweet soy. Julienned strips of barbecue pork char siu and a smattering of green onions are all that's added for flavor.

In the side bowl, you get about five or six medium-size wontons, which is usually enough for me. If I want more wontons, I tell them so, and it's an additional charge. If you let the wontons sit in the bowl too long, the wrappers will get a bit mushy, which is what happened this particular occasion when I took so much time taking pictures.

You see, the key to Chino's Fast Food is "fast." It's fast service, fast food and fast eating. I was in and out in less than 30 minutes from the time I ordered to the time I finished my bowl and stood up. And that's exactly why I go to Chino's. At the end of a long, hard day, when I don't want to cook and I don't want to go hungry, Chino's will always deliver a solid, cheap meal without any fuss.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham