Fu Wing Low: Young At Heart
"I'll have what I always get," said the middle-aged man upon entering Fu Wing Low, sounding as satisfied as Mike Trout flying across the outfield to make a catch by the tip of his glove. "The veggie moo shu. I don't need anything else, ever."
The lunch rush had just ended; no other customer was in the Fountain Valley restaurant. The owner, a man in his 60s, talked to the customer for a good 20 minutes—it was obvious they had carried on conversations like this for years. Even the talk was old-school: The owner complained about how bad Chinese restaurants ruin it for the good owners such as he; the customer (who either is or was involved in the health-inspector game) admitted that sometimes the best food is at holes in the wall such as this one, holes in the wall that polite society will never visit because of its puritanical palate. "I once went to a Nicaraguan place filled with rats—but man, was it great!" he told the owner. "Thank God you're not only great, but one of the cleanest restaurants I ever saw."
And hole in the wall Fu Wing Low is. It features probably the starkest storefront in Orange County: vertical wooden slats where the windows should be, its solitary, smoked-glass door looking out toward the parking lot of a shopping plaza. At night, with the tired marquee above, a single bar of fluorescent lights below and two lantern-esque lights on each side of the door, this exterior screams more Chinatown dive bar than Chinese-American standard. And the inside probably hasn't changed since the Ford administration, with its large booths and framed flowers looming over the tables. But an entire generation of Fountain Valley-ites has sworn by its voluminous menu—it's been around since the days that Little Saigon existed only in Garden Grove's section of Brookhurst Street. This is a house of lunch specials and massive family dinners, of five egg foo youngs and rumaki, that tiki-age appetizer of liver chunks wrapped with bacon that screams for a mai tai (only beer and wine here, alas). These types of restaurants are relics, beloved places that creep into the Southern Californian mind whenever we crave pepper beef.
But change is coming to Fu Wing Low. The owner told his veggie moo shu-loving customer he's going to sell the restaurant to family members. The menu will probably remain, but the name might change. Will new ownership veer the place from its Americanized Cantonese and Szechuan classics? Only time with tell—in the meanwhile, dip those overfried egg rolls in the hot mustard one more wonderful time.
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