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The dining area is usually full. It ain’t pretty: tiny, cramped, not spotless. Also note, it’s not full of people eating. It’s full of people waiting for their carryout. The packed house is a testament to the food, since Casual Chinese is pretty near impossible to find, even with GPS. It’s in a hidden mini mall behind a mini mall off I-471 at the Grand Avenue exit to Newport. So is this food worth getting lost for? Oh yes. Casual Chinese is definitely authentic Chinese American cooking. One of my favorites: the cheese wontons, a purification of crab Rangoon created in the U.S. back in the ’50s. They fluff cream cheese and lace it with scallions, blanket the mixture in a wonton and deep fry until crisp. The fruity sweet and sour sauce that you drown them in is homemade and warm.
While there are a few Thai dishes on the menu, Casual Chinese definitely hasn’t caved to the sushi or Asian-country-de-jour trend. In addition to wonderfully Americanized versions of classics from all over China—Hunan shrimp, Szechuan pork, Hong Kong chicken and Mongolian beef—there are some bold new tastes, like Dragon and Phoenix (spicy chicken with mild shrimp and veggies), Szechuan duck, and the fascinating Happy Family for One (shrimp, chicken, scallops, pork, beef, and vegetables). Maybe the family is happy because you’re eating solo? You’ll want to retrace your steps back to this place so badly that you’ll do like one couple I saw: tossing breadcrumbs out their car window. Or maybe that was just their trash? Surely not.
Casual Chinese 88 Carothers Rd., Newport, (859) 431-2900.
Originally published in the July 2014 issue.