No matter where I am in the Midwest, I always appreciate the comfortable familiarity that comes with stepping into a local Chinese food restaurant to pick up a delicious mixed bag of takeout.
From an unassuming exterior to the giant takeout board behind the register filled with faded pictures of their large portions and colorful wall decor reflecting the Asian roots of the owners, many of these restaurants feel similar.
Yet their differences can be vast.
For the past three years, I’ve chosen China One in Gas City for my Chinese food cravings. However, for the purpose of this column, I’ve gone off the Taylor-beaten path to try a new option that’s always been available: Hong Kong Cafe in Hartford City.
Located on Washington Street, Hong Kong Cafe is just an eight-minute drive from campus, making it just a minute further away (by Google Map’s estimate) than Gas City’s China One.
Hong Kong Cafe’s menu is extensive and includes all your favorite americanized Chinese cuisine.
It would be impossible to stay within budget and try everything Hong Kong Cafe has to offer, so I just chose some of my favorite menu items as points of comparison: fried dumplings, beef with broccoli and chicken lo mein.
Like with most Chinese food restaurants, the Hong Kong Cafe takeout containers were stuffed full of noodles and veggies and meats.
I chose to upgrade the chicken lo mein to a “special combination plate” for only two dollars more. This added a side of rice as well as an egg roll.
Overall, I was impressed by the lo mein. It maintained the specific greasy noodle quality that I enjoy in lo mein while also containing fresh green vegetables and well-cooked chicken.
I was less impressed by the beef and broccoli and fried dumplings. While the broccoli was fresh and seasoned well the beef felt very “try the gray stuff” without the “it's delicious” part.
The fried dumplings simply “meh,” not giving me anything more than a frozen food aisle version of the food could bring to a meal.
Surprisingly, the star dish of the meal was the fried rice that came as a side to the lo mein. Though a simple dish, it might have been the best dish of fried rice I’ve had in a long time.
While the overall meal wasn’t five stars by any means, Hong Kong Cafe certainly has its other perks.
An online ordering capability leaves you with no need to call into the restaurant to place your order. The extensive menu containing everything from soups to seafood certainly provides a wide range of options for whatever mood you’re in. The prices remain accessible enough for a broke college student or large Midwest family.
My favorite part of the meal was the fortune cookies tossed into our takeout bag.
“A chance meeting from someone in your past is in store,” the cookie told me.
In a world where many fortune cookies are riddled with advertisements, I was grateful for a simple and vague fortune that made me believe mystery is still possible.
For central Indiana Chinese food, Hong Kong Cafe remains a decent option. I hope you’ll consider stepping outside Grant County and try a new restaurant like Hong Kong Cafe.
Its long menu and cheap prices make it an excellent backup choice to local China One.
Hong Kong Cafe is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. They are closed Sundays.
I rate Hong Kong Cafe 3/5 fortune cookies.