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Where to find it: The Other Menu at 88 China Bistro

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One of the most common questions I am asked is where to find "authentic" Chinese food in Charlotte. For a long time, I have told readers that Chinese restaurants frequently have two menus. The other "secret" menu is the one given to Chinese ex-pats and those who like quality, even expensive, Chinese cuisine. But you will need to ask. The first menu typically has Sichuan, Mandarin and Americanized Chinese dishes, such as General Tso and the Lo Mein.

Five years ago, in a review I wrote about 88 China Bistro (1620 E. 4th St.), a small Chinese restaurant in Elizabeth, I focused on my discovery of this second menu and its seasoned watercress soup. This other menu at 88 China Bistro is a Cantonese menu. Cantonese is the food of the Chinese emperors: clear mellow sauces and expensive high-end ingredients. This cuisine is on the other side of the flavor wheel from General Tso chicken.

But a few weeks ago when I visited 88 China Bistro, I was told by my server there was no longer a second menu. I mentioned this incident on WFAE earlier this month. Here is what has changed. The owner said the second menu is not offered at lunch or for takeout and admitted that some servers may not offer it to customers at dinner.

I'm not sure why a restaurant would not offer both menus to all diners on a consistent basis, especially in light of the abundance of Americanized Chinese food being offered at the popular Asian bistro-styled emporiums. Why should we have to ask?

Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the QC? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com or 704-522-8334, extension 136.

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