It's difficult to dine at Yung Kee BBQ and not think about its rival just down the street, the more popular First Chinese BBQ.
This doesn't mean I didn't discover some gems at Yung Kee. The restaurant has its share of worthy mentions, but atmosphere isn't one of them. While First Chinese's exterior veers towards the drab, its interior actually is quite nice and well-kept. The opposite can be said for Yung Kee, seeing as how their outside sign is the prettiest thing about the restaurant. The interior is clean, but it tiptoes around depressing. The thermostat is kept at meat-locker cold, and to find the restroom, one must walk through the kitchen. A door inside the restaurant leads to the neighboring Asian market, which doesn't add much to the ambiance. The barbecued meats display of duck and roasted pork is quite sad-looking, as well, with only a single tiny duck hanging behind the window when we visited.
Having worked 12 hours on Friday with a Lean Cuisine as my only meal of the day, I dragged the boyfriend to Richardson to seek out some comfort food. As soon as we walked in, we noticed immediately that the only other diners joining us for the evening were a group of the Dallas Police Department's finest. At this point, the boyfriend chuckled and a shook his head. It's one thing for me to be a pajamas-wearing recluse, but it's borderline farce for me to be dragging him out to dinner at a restaurant with a sad duck and the police on a Friday night.
We found a corner table as far away from the law as possible and looked over our menus. The prices at Yung Kee are cheap, really cheap. I believe my exact reaction to the prices was, "Whoa. Really?" Yung Kee BBQ 1, First Chinese BBQ 0. As my parents will gladly tell anyone, First Chinese BBQ's prices have skyrocketed over the years. Being the seasoned restaurant diner that I am, I am lenient towards First Chinese's price increases. My parents, however, are like, super Asian, and don't understand it when Asian cuisine is priced higher than their liking.
I figured that the lower prices at Yung Kee would signal smaller portions than that of First Chinese BBQ. I was wrong. Once again, I over-ordered. I wasn't prepared for how massive Yung Kee's dishes would be. To make a fair comparison, I ordered all the same dishes I usually order at First Chinese BBQ: a wonton and barbecued pork noodle soup, a barbecued pork and roast duck rice plate, and a combination pan-fried noodle. I added a fried scallion pancake to the order for good measure, because three entrees aren't already enough for two people.
The noodle soup came out first, and it was beautiful. We looked at the bowl in awe of how much pork was sitting atop the egg noodles. Amazingly, the standout of the dish wasn't the meat, but the broth, which was balanced and restrained. The problem with many restaurant wonton noodle soups, including First Chinese BBQ, is a heavy dose of sugar. The dish's broth is supposed to be sweeter than other soups, but many restaurants go overboard. Yung Kee BBQ strikes a good balance of savory and sweet. The wonton, however, cannot receive the same praise. Unlike First Chinese BBQ's plump and juicy wontons, Yung Kee's were dry, flavorless, one-dimensional and lacking any white pepper or seasonings that would've added nuance.
Out next came the rice dish, which had an abundant amount of meat, as well. Sadly, however, what Yung Kee offers in quantity is not always matched by quality. The barbecued pork was seasoned well, but the meat was dry. As for the roast duck, it barely had any meat on its bones at all. Worst of all, the rice was dry to the point of inedible. While I'm not a fan of wet rice, the rice's consistency made it seem as though it had been sitting at the bottom of the rice cooker all day. The boyfriend, who likes his rice cooked extremely dry, disagreed with me. In this case, I would have gladly paid the extra dollar or so to have this dish at First Chinese.
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Next to arrive were the scallion pancakes. The pancakes were fried crispy golden, but are not nearly as good as those at Yung Kee's neighbor, Jeng Chi Dumpling House. A true Chinese scallion pancake has several layers, with soft doughy layers on the inside and a crunchy golden shell on the outside. Making a good scallion pancake is harder than it sounds, and it takes a lot of work. Yung Kee took out all the labor, and the result is similar to a thin crispy pita chip. It's not bad, but it's not right, either.
The final dish to arrive made the grandest entrance of all. The combination pan-fried noodles is a monstrosity of crispy fried noodles topped with beef, chicken, pork, squid, shrimp and vegetables. Upon perusing through pictures on my camera, a friend of mine found the picture of the noodles, and exclaimed, "What is THAT?!" The dish, which is, again, very reasonably priced, tasted as fantastic as it looked. However, it tasted better as leftovers than fresh out of the kitchen. The egg noodles Yung Kee uses is a slightly different texture than that of First Chinese BBQ. First Chinese's noodles are a bit starchier, making it a great dish when it first comes out, but upon reheating the noodles become mushy and fall apart. Yung Kee's noodles were a bit too crunchy straight out of the kitchen, but they withstood time in the fridge and reheating in the microwave terrifically. The dish was so plentiful that we had leftovers throughout the next two days.
When it comes to trying out restaurants, as adventurous as I may be at times, for Asian dining I still am a creature of habit. I know what is good, and I stick to what I like. Perhaps if it was not for this blog, I would remain eating at the same three or four Asian restaurants I am used to frequenting. I may have never given Yung Kee the try, and while I'm glad I finally got the chance to do the compare and contrast between the two restaurants, I can say safely that First Chinese BBQ still is the standard. For the time being, there is no comparison.
Yung Kee BBQ 400 North Greenville Ave., Richardson 214-570-8887