If any fast-food Chinese place could be worthy of a cult following, it’s probably Wok-In. At this corner spot, located just off the 55 freeway and Santa Isabel Avenue, you’ll see two illuminated logos offering Vietnamese pho and Chinese fast food. When asked what led to pairing the two cuisines, the owner’s son Bruce Le explained, “Our cook is Chinese, and my mom is Vietnamese and knows how to make pho. So we thought, ‘Why not do both?’”
Why not, indeed! It’s a concept everyone seems to find agreeable. Expect to see a steam table of Chinese fast-food staples: orange chicken, beef with broccoli, chow mein and fried rice. The Chinese-American menu offers all the classics and then some; there are three variations of lo mein (shrimp, seafood or beef), but stick with the beef chow fun, a traditional Cantonese dish of flat rice noodles, tender beef and crunchy bean sprouts. The Americanized combo plate allows you to choose from one, two or three entrées, depending on how much you want to smush into a styrofoam to-go box, for less than $8. The cut-off time for takeout Chinese is 2 p.m.—this is also the time the restaurant transitions to its wok-experience menu.
Chinese-style wok-fried rice dishes include yang chow fried rice (from the city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province) and seafood stir-fried rice with xo sauce (a spicy seafood sauce that originated in Hong Kong), as well as basic beef, chicken and vegetable options. Spicy morsels of kung pao chicken are marinated in a sweet-heat sauce and served with white rice. The dish is also available with shrimp or beef. Other savory nuanced eats include hearty portions of honey-glazed walnut shrimp, mongolian beef and ginger-steamed fish fillet.
Pho is available all day; the restaurant offers all the heavy hitters, including pho tai, pho bo vien and pho ga, all in a strongly fragrant, flavorful broth. If you’re looking for something on the cooler side, go with a vermicelli bowl; we like the grilled shrimp paired with daikon radishes, carrots and bean sprouts, then topped with fresh herbs. You can also get chicken or tofu bowls.
Side dishes and appetizers are a combination of Chinese, American and Vietnamese bites that range from jellyfish salad, spring rolls and egg rolls to popcorn chicken. Wok-In also offers a decent amount of vegetarian dishes, such as mapo tofu drenched in a thin chile sauce, house special cauliflower lo mein, and hot and sour soup.
Unlike at most greasy Chinese fast-food joints, everything here is made fresh to order. In fact, you need to call a day in advance for the specialty lobster and sea bass dishes. It doesn’t get any better than a hole in the wall that marries two of your favorite cuisines for the ultimate bang bang.
Wok-In, 2394 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 287-6785; wok-in.cafe-inspector.com