Wok on by
Jia’s Wok232 E Plumb Ln.
Reno, NV 89502
Park Lane Mall is a strange place. It was once just another mall with all the usual corporate suspects, but now it seems to be mostly mom-and-pop specialty shops, weird world emporiums and bizarre bazaars. If Reno were to have a Simpsons-style Leftorium, Park Lane would be the place to find it. I went there during the final frenzies of my holiday shopping, hoping to find some hidden gems among the many white elephants. I turned down an unfamiliar corner, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but an unfamiliar Chinese food joint, Jia’s Wok.
It has the look of a place that’s been there for years, and it was fairly busy with what I hoped were long-time regulars, keepers of an ancient secret. The restaurant has harsh lighting and wholly unromantic ambience, so I hoped it was one of those places sustained solely by virtue of good grub. I was pressed for time but vowed to come back and give it a shot.
I returned a few days later with two friends from out of town, Andrew and Blythe, who, it must be acknowledged, were unenthused at the prospect of dining at a place that I had no evidence, just a hunch, was better than it looks.
Sadly, to my disappointment, their apprehensions were well-founded. I had a $5.29 combo plate that included chicken chow mein, sweet and sour pork, egg foo young and a medium fountain drink. A pretty good deal for the quantity. The egg foo young and chow mein were of about average quality. I ate them and felt good, but I certainly wasn’t impressed and doubt I’ll remember the meal in another week. It’s the sort of anonymous Chinese fare that you can get “to go” everywhere in America. The sweet and sour pork was a real misfire: The sauce was so saccharine and the meat so rubbery, I couldn’t even finish it (a rarity—I’ll eat just about anything I can get past my lips).
Andrew had ham-fried rice ($4.29) and Blythe had the chow mein ($4.29). Blythe agreed that the chow mein was fair enough. But Andrew’s rice was certainly a chore to get through, even with assistance from me. Andrew and Blythe also had egg rolls ($1.39 each), which tasted like sauerkraut. We had some crab rangoon ($3.99 for 10), and they were small, too sweet, too doughy and light on the namesake ingredient.
Additionally, the plastic utensils available were by no means capable of performing the tasks we needed them for. My plastic knife couldn’t cut through the rather dense egg foo young without a lot of hacking and sawing, which, in turn, would cause massive spills. I imagine that cutlery isn’t too big of a concern for the majority of Jia’s Wok diners, who either get the food to go or just buy an egg roll or two to munch while prowling the mall.
One enjoyable thing about Jia’s Wok is that it’s right across from the Creative Performing Arts Center, so you can watch dancers rehearse and do headstands and things while you eat. It’s silly but actually rather entertaining. “It’s like dinner and a show,” as Andrew joked.
Often the best food is the stuff at the small joints tucked away in strange corners. One has to take some chances in order find those great secret spots. But leaving Jia’s Wok, I found myself mulling over the sad observation that there are reasons why some restaurants remain hidden.