For five years, Yat Ka Mein, an inconspicuous noodle house sandwiched between Penn Station and Aveda Frederic’s Institute in a Hyde Park strip mall, has catered to our inner Chinese peasant. Clarence Chan, the owner, grew up in Hong Kong and was inspired by the “good, cheap” food of his youth. Yat Ka Mein offers humble, everyday Cantonese dishes of egg noodles, tasty dumplings packed with shrimp or pork, fresh veggies, and chicken broth. Chan opened his restaurant as an alternative to what he calls “frou-frou” Chinese restaurants.
“We’re not fancy,” he says, “but we have good portion size, traditional menu, and good price. That was original idea of Chinese restaurants 40 years ago.”
Almost begrudgingly his menu includes popular American-style Chinese dishes, like the ubiquitous sweet and sour chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan, roast duck, and so forth. But what makes the place unique are less familiar dishes like Dan Dan noodles, a spicy, sweat-inducing blend of garlic, chili peppers, and ground chicken marinated in chili sauce. On the other end of the spiciness spectrum is the Yat Ka Mein bowl, a staple of the Northern Chinese diet. To lovers of Szechuan cuisine, the egg noodles, thick slices of pork, chicken, carrots, peas, and imitation crab meat taste somewhat bland, but Chan insists it’s the soul of Chinese comfort food.
In the dining room, you’ll find loyal fans. One fellow diner, Kelly Hudson of Oakley, volunteered this about the sweet sesame dumplings. “They’re crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and filled with sweet bean paste. There’s nothing else like them anywhere.” Except, we assume, China.
Yat Ka Mein, 2974 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 321-2028, yatkamein.biz
Prices $1-$25; Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat
Originally published in the November 2010 issue.