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Handy Kitchen

Posted by MEZ 17 May 2010 14 Comments


Handy Kitchen is your standard Chinese-take-out restaurant offering Hunan, Mandarin, Szechuan, and Cantonese dishes. They also call themselves New York-style, which I think is just a clue that they offer the American versions of these dishes that we are used to as I didn’t notice any difference from the Chinese I’ve had on either coast, but I could be wrong (easily so). They have, of course, the discolored row of pictured dishes above the register, and there was also a specials board, but it seemed to consist of the fried items they already offer on the menu. There are a few tables around if you’d rather eat at the restaurant than take your food home.

I found the lunch prices to be extremely reasonable, especially with the plentiful portion sizes. Lunch includes an entrée, pork fried rice or white rice, and wonton or egg drop soup or a soda. I chose wonton soup for that last option.

It was my least favorite portion of the meal, largely due to the metallic tang of the broth. There were three huge wontons, chockfull of a dense ground meat that I couldn’t determine whether it was beef or pork. The wrapper was very thick. The broth contained strips of pork and scallions. If the broth didn’t taste off, I would have liked it pretty well. I definitely liked the huge bag of fried wonton strips that accompanied it.

My entrée was Hunan chicken with pork fried rice.

It was a good choice for me, because the Hunan dish contained loads of vegetables: snow peas, bell peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, carrots, baby corn spears, broccoli, and mushrooms (I avoided those). They were all a little overcooked, but I was happy to have that much variety of vegetable. The chicken was fine, and the sauce had a mild kick to it. The pork fried rice had large chunks of pork rather than those tiny little bites common in many fried rice offerings, but they were few and far between. The rice did not have much flavor, either.

The hands-down winner of lunch for me was definitely the shrimp toasts I ordered in addition to the combo meal. I had always been intrigued by shrimp toast, mainly just because I wanted to know what on Earth it could be as I’d never tried it before (Bread made from ground-up, dried shrimp? Layers of mushed-up shrimp spread like jam?).

I found shrimp toast to be delicious. The order ($2.75) came with four large chunks of them, which consisted of a somewhat chewy filling of the shrimp mixed with some sort of egg batter that is then placed on top of a square of bread, then battered and fried. They were definitely extra crisp, which I never mind. The flavorful and vibrant shrimp filling, with a fantastic hint of celery, was worth every bite, and the toast and breading created a great, heavy coating for that lighter filling. I’d definitely recommend them any day.

Handy Kitchen has plenty of vegetarian options, and they also have a steamed menu if you are looking to avoid the calorific goodness of stir-fry. There’s a list of pricier chef’s specialties on the menu, too, which seems to stray some from the standard, Chinese-take-out options. Lake Tung Ting Shrimp with an egg-white sauce, and hot, spiced, shredded beef or chicken in a brown sauce were two of those options. Let us know if you’ve tried any of their more unusual fare, of if they really aren’t that unusual at all.

Handy Kitchen
5279 N. Roxboro Road
Eno Square Shopping Center
Lunch Specials: $4.65–$4.75
Dinner Combos: $5.95–$6.95

Reviewed 5.11.10.

14 Comments »

  • JEN said:

    I have been meaning to review this place since we moved up this direction. Though I’ve not had any of the unusual dishes, I’d love to add that we MUST order the fried dumplings (potstickers) every time we get take out there. You get 8 (I think) large meat-filled dumplings and a great sauce to dunk them in for just $5. It’s a steal.

    I agree the fried rice is pretty bland. The veggies and meat in everything I’ve ordered thus far have been cooked just perfectly. I can’t stand overcooked vegetables. The sauces can run a little heavy on the oil and a little light on the spice, so I usually doctor them at home a little.

    I’d be curious to hear how they compare to China Star. I’ve been meaning to check them out.

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  • patrick said:

    im consistently impressed the by the generally low-level expectations you present to the places you visit. The place looks like one of the most depressing places to pay for food in and the menu sounds just like every other chinese restaurant in town who doesnt bother trying to make something interesting and good. Safe for white people chinese as i call it.

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    judas_escargot replies on May 18th, 2010 at 7:57 am:

    Yeah you tell em! What would the people back in Fujian province think of that weak-ass pork fried rice and cashew chicken! Someone tell the Chinese people who own this place that they have no idea what real Chinese food is like and if they ever want to make a living in Durham they better stop making this “safe for white people chinese food” and learn how to serve up some shark fin soup and fried chicken feet pronto.

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    Sant replies on May 18th, 2010 at 2:40 pm:

    I have to agree with Patrick. Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro and Superwok in Cary have created quite a buzz for themselves by offering people non-Americanized Chinese food. No reason such a place wouldn’t be well supported in Durham as well.

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    MEZ replies on May 18th, 2010 at 4:23 pm:

    I’m sure a place like that would be well-received indeed. That doesn’t mean that Chinese-American food has no place, though. I think of this sort of food and Mexican-American cuisine as comfort food, personally. They are different beasts than what you might find in those countries (I haven’t been to either country, so I am only assuming here based on what others proclaim to be authentic), but occasionally, I’ve got a craving that only the greasy standard offerings of the Americanized versions can quench. I wouldn’t put Handy Kitchen at the top of that list, either, but Carpe Durham reports are not so much about ranking as about simply sharing what a place has to offer. Plus, that shrimp toast was darn good.

    judas_escargot replies on May 19th, 2010 at 9:43 am:

    So you agree with him that this is another place that serves cheap mainstream 100-item menu Chinese food? Is that some kind of amazing insight these days? It’s not authentic or inspiring Chinese food, no kidding, we get that part already…

    Sant replies on May 19th, 2010 at 10:28 am:

    I can’t agree with him about this place specifically because I haven’t tried it yet. But I do agree with his questioning why such a dime-a-dozen Chinese restaurant is being reviewed. Let’s try to find the hidden gems in Durham. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate MEZ’s efforts.

    JB replies on May 19th, 2010 at 10:40 am:

    Sorry to get all philosophical here, but Judas’s request for shark fin soup here in Durham brings up an interesting facet of our desire for “authentic” dishes. While shark fin soup was traditionally only served on very special occasions, now that is widely available, the market demand for shark fins has contributed to the massive decline of sharks globally (which typically die a slow, painful death after being finned and thrown back alive, unable to swim). While this is sad, my point is that the Americanization of other culture’s cuisine is not only an adjustment to a different palate, but a cultural adjustment as well. We don’t eat horse, we rarely eat shark, and I wish we didn’t eat bluefin tuna and other decimated species that have become prized in the US through the import of foreign cuisines. While I love to learn about other cultures and eat as “authentically” as possible, there are some dishes that I’m glad to see haven’t migrated here. All I’m saying is, be careful what you wish for.

    On the other hand, we Americans love our chicken, and I’m sure there’s a whole lot of chicken feet that are thrown away, so I wholly encourage the inclusion of chicken feet on menus everywhere. I’d eat them.

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    judas_escargot replies on May 19th, 2010 at 12:33 pm:

    I just threw in the shark fins and chicken feet as comedic examples of “real Chinese food”. I imagine many people in Beijing are eating a lot of KFC and McDonald’s these days.

  • Peter said:

    It’s mostly a takeout place with reasonable prices.

    The food is consistently properly cooked and they don’t skimp on the vegetables or try to pass off frozen vegetable medley in their dishes.

    The hot and sour soup is usually pretty good.

    This isn’t a great area for Chinese food, but if you’re looking for basic and well executed dishes, this place does well.

    I can’t think of a place in Durham that’s consistently better than this, but that says as much about Durham as it does about this restaurant.

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  • JEN said:

    Sorry if I’m in the minority here, but I think CD does a great job with providing insight into all types of eats.

    Often I go a-googling and end up here when I can’t find a website for a local taqueira, take out chinese, or BBQ joint. A lot of those places don’t have websites and I like to know what to expect before jumping in. Thanks to the courageous bunch that venture out and sample blindly. You are doing the rest of us a service.

    Finding decent takeout Chinese (Americanized or any other iteration for that matter) in North Durham is a challenge and the input given on this post was of value to at least one person.

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    TSQ75 replies on May 19th, 2010 at 11:54 am:

    i agree with JEN

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  • CV said:

    Best Chinese in Durham is Hong Kong house on Guess Rd. Especially if you eat off the handwritten poster with the dishes listed in both Chinese and English.

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  • Darrin said:

    I eat here alot and I have to say, Its ordinary. Nothing fancy, nothing great. We have Zero options in North Durham so, Handy Kitchen it is. China Star is terrible so Handy wins the battle of the bottom. I guess I am just spoiled coming from San Francisco that had China Town. Get the Kung Po Chicken and ask the girl to make it extra spicy. Its not hot at all if you have that palete.

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