Discovering Grilled Chinese Street Fare in Allen | Dallas Observer

Grilled Chinese Street Food Skewers Galore at Gao’s BBQ in Allen

Did someone say skewered tongues?
Pepper beef skewer at Gao.
Pepper beef skewer at Gao. Nick Reynolds
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Gao’s BBQ boasts on its website that it's got the “best Chinese BBQ in town.” Cool, we’re on the way.

Deep into Allen at U.S. 75 and Stacy Road (just shy of the Sam Rayburn at Sterling Plaza) sits the lone Gao’s BBQ in North Texas and one of only two in the state (the other is in Houston). The remaining locations are spread far and wide: There’s a Gao’s in New York (Queens), one in Chicago and two in California.
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Gao's neon-soaked dining space is small but boisterous. It gets loud and you can even do karaoke from your table if your heart desires.
Nick Reynolds
Before we dive into the menu, we should note Gao's vibrant dining room, decked out in neon, with plenty of libations and table karaoke. Yes, you don't even have to leave your seat to belt out "You're So Vain," like pissed-off Carly Simon intended.

At Gao’s, the trade is East Northern Chinese barbecue, street-fare style. If it can be grilled and skewered, it’s grilled and skewered. Lamb, beef, pork, chicken and veggies from grilled corn to okra and sweet potato skins. All parts of the animals are used here, too. Nothing goes to waste. On Gao’s menu, which counts well over 100 items, you’ll find skewered tongues, tendons, feet, skins and gizzards.

Did we mention the intestines, brains, kidneys and hearts? Andrew Zimmern would be proud.

No, this isn’t your typical Americanized neighborhood Chinese takeout spot. You won’t find orange chicken here. No hot and sour soup or crab rangoon, either.

In addition to Gao’s seemingly infinite spectrum of skewers, you’ll also find Cajun-style crawfish, snow crab and oysters.

To get started, we went with a few skewers. Our first skewer, beef backstrap, threw us off a bit, which was no fault of Gao’s. Having had venison backstrap before – considered a prized venison cut – we thought we had an idea of what beef backstrap is. (Venison backstrap is comparable to beef filet mignon.)
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Beef backstrap skewer over rice.
Nick Reynolds
Filet mignon this was not.

Instead, we got extra-chewy, bite-sized strips of what we later learned was beef muscle tissue. As we said before, all parts of the animal are utilized at Gao’s. To be clear, this wasn’t the restaurant’s fault. If we had taken a few moments to Google beef backstrap, we would’ve realized that beef backstrap and venison backstrap are two different things entirely.

Were these skewered beef muscle tissue strips as off-putting as they might sound? Nah, but we won’t be running back to get them again, either.
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Grilled bullfrog legs skewer.
Nick Reynolds
Next up were grilled bullfrog legs. Now this, we could get behind. These were nicely seasoned and grilled. For those who haven’t tried frog legs, they taste like a cross of chicken and mild fish, leaning slightly more towards the chicken side.

There are bites when you think, “Oh yeah, this tastes just like chicken.” But then the next bite comes, and now you’re thinking, “Wait, now that bite tasted more like fish.” Texturally, they’re not far from chicken wings. Yeah, they’re interesting. And if you can get past the mental hurdle of it being, you know, a frog, they’re quite good.

Our final skewer was far less exotic than the first two: simple pepper beef skewers. These missed the mark with our table. The beef was overcooked and tough, with significantly more gristle than we’d prefer.
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Gao's "King of Eggplant."
Nick Reynolds
One of Gao’s best-sellers is the King of Eggplant ($10.99), which comes slathered in a sublime Chinese marinade and peppered liberally with red chili peppers and green onions. If you’re an eggplant lover, this one is a must.

We also grabbed a mango smoothie for the road, which we enjoyed.

While our experience wasn’t perfect, we barely scratched the surface of Gao's menu. The extensive list of skewer options (sold a la carte with prices ranging from $2.50 to $9 an order) includes everything from quail to chicken wings to bacon enoki mushrooms. There are also hot and cold dish chef specials and items from the main menu like fried ramen, kimchi fried rice and spicy crawfish rice bowls.

We'll definitely be back. For the table karaoke if nothing else.

Gao’s, 190 E. Stacy Road, Ste. 1300, Allen. Monday – Friday, 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Saturday – Sunday, noon – 2 a.m.
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