Hong Le143 N. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89501
I’ve always said Chinese food is either fantastic or inedible. When it’s mediocre, it’s horrid. But Hong Le is either the exception that proves the rule or the place to force me to rethink yet another one of my stupid little theories about dining. This isn’t anything fancy—just good, fun eats.
I was already in a lowbrow mood because it was raining. Not because the rain depresses me or anything like that. Quite the opposite. Whenever it’s raining. I feel like an action movie star.
As a kid growing up in the desert in the ‘80s, the only time I ever saw rain was in the climactic scenes of action movies. My first association with rain is homoerotic Mel Gibson punchfests. Or Harrison Ford eating chow mein at the beginning of Blade Runner. So at Hong Le, I ordered chow mein. More specifically the barbecue pork chow mein ($6.95). It was damned fine, just what I’d like to eat before busting heads.
Hong Le is in a downtown location that was once, I think, a fast-food joint. More recently, it was a Vietnamese place that I never checked out because I heard bad things about it, and contrary to popular rumor, I don’t like going places I expect to dislike. Hong Le does both Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, but I and my friends John and Paul concentrated on the Chinese side of the equation, except for some Vietnamese-style spring rolls ($3.95), which were excellent—and what’s more, they gave us each our own tub of peanut sauce.
The interior is a little uninspired and way too bright, but we had a good table—the corner booth, next to a heat lamp. The walls are adorned with those over-saturated photos of plates of food. The photos are all numbered but sequenced in what is either a complex logarithm or a random order. This gives the impression that they’re there primarily for decoration, which is either dumb or brilliant, depending on how you look at it. The service is welcoming, and the food is an action-packed thrill ride.
In addition to the tough guy chow mein, we had the salted pepper tofu ($7.25)—little mind-warping slabs of funk with jalapeños and onions—and the broccoli with garlic sauce ($6.75), which was just that: lots of broccoli, covered with lots of garlic and nothing else, save a sliver or two of carrot. These dishes were intense, with big, exploding flavors. The tofu was surprisingly manly for a soy product. Both dishes might’ve been a little one-dimensional, but it’s a good dimension.
We also had a couple of soups: the vegetable and egg noodle ($5.75)—great for dipping the tofu—and the asparagus soup ($7.25). The latter was probably the only real disappointment of the lot. It was basically generic egg drop soup with pieces of asparagus and (what I took for imitation) crab.
Otherwise, this is good food to eat lots of. While John and I were chowing down like sharks in a tuna tank, Paul was showing uncharacteristic restraint.
“I have a crush on a girl that’s real skinny,” he said. “So I’m trying to lose weight.”
Considering that Hong Le is the sort of joint best suited to conspicuous displays of face-stuffing prowess, it was the wrong restaurant for him.