"King Chef a surprising lunch standard in Fishers
I hear you have the best egg drop soup in town,” I said, leaning into the counter to grab a takeout menu. Practically in unison, two employees turned from their busywork to answer with a confident “Yes.” But their deadpan expressions seemed to imply exasperation that anyone would even have to say that anymore. Certainly, they’d heard it before. Perhaps too often. After all, King Chef has been serving that egg drop soup, along with some pretty solid Cantonese, Hunan, and Mandarin dishes, to savvy diners in Fishers for over 8 years. Where had I been?
Just as exciting as the opening of a new restaurant is the discovery of a longstanding place you never knew about that’s still going strong. An eatery like that with a dedicated following, as well as recommended dishes all over the Internet, could make a restaurant critic feel he isn’t doing his job. But it gives hope that Indianapolis is a diverse enough metropolis to support landmark international eateries in more than just a couple of neighborhoods—and that there’s always something waiting to be discovered at the city’s periphery.
At first, our requests for recommendations were met with “Most people like the General Tso’s chicken and the crab rangoon.” Ho hum. Once we persisted, however, Erica Guan, wife of owner Jack Shih and sister of chef Zing Ling Guan, took over, offering recommendations of more authentic dishes. She explained to us that, though her family grew up speaking Cantonese and eating the pristine and pure dishes of this southern province, the restaurant features dishes from all over China, even spicy Szechuan fare. While this satisfies American diners’ desire for more ginger and garlic, as well as more sauce, the menu reflects the chef’s years of experience in New York restaurants, as well as owner Jack’s Taiwanese heritage. It’s a multicultural experience that still offers diners plenty of familiar dishes.
Unfortunately, we showed up too late to dine in, so our first experience of the wonders of King Chef’s diverse and flavorful cuisine came via Styrofoam and plastic. As takeout went, however, this was some regal stuff. Soups, indeed, were a highlight. The egg drop, long maligned by inferior buffets, was quite light and flavorful here, not too viscous and with a nice crunch of cabbage and distinct hit of pepper. Hot and sour was a bit less flavorful than some but still nicely peppery without the acrid burn of too much vinegar. King Chef had definitely earned its reputation for soups.
Appetizers, too, were surprisingly flavorful. Spring rolls ($2.95) were clearly hand rolled with just a few veggies, among them crisp bamboo shoots and carrots, instead of so much cabbage. Nothing, however, could compare to the hot braised chicken wings. Meaty, crunchy, well-battered chicken wings came slathered in a delectable glaze with little hints of ginger and Szechuan peppers. They’d make any buffalo wings lover forsake their favorite snack. If anything, these could have been one notch spicier, but at $4.45 for a huge serving, they could more than make a meal.
Entrees were slightly more mixed, although little disappointed. The much-recommended crystal shrimp ($12.95) promised light batter-fried prawns in a homemade mayonnaise sauce, but the coating on the shrimp was a little spongy, and the sauce didn’t really bring out their flavor. Slightly sweet deep-fried walnuts, however, provided a delicious garnish. Yui-shan pork ($7.95) was a nicely balanced dish of tender, well-cut pork with plenty of texture from stir-fried celery, water chestnuts, and Chinese black mushrooms in a garlicky sauce. Also quite tasty were curried rice noodles, not on the menu but recommended by regulars online. This delicate pasta dish with shrimp, roast pork, chicken, and veggies had a bit of a Malaysian flair with just enough of a flavorful curry sauce. While this was definitely the hottest of the dishes we’d tasted, we couldn’t help thinking King Chef was toning things down just slightly for American palates.
Returning for lunch later in the week, we got a sense of just how popular this place is among locals. Despite its lack of a buffet, King Chef clearly draws devoted diners from area office parks who know the menu well and have their regular dishes. Far from being a dingy strip-mall Chinese place, this is a soothing, well-dressed eatery with helpful, swift servers ready to meet your every need. Lunch portions are huge and cheap—everything from a very subtle shrimp lo mein not drenched in sauce to braised pork, much like those chicken wings but with a lighter treatment of sauce. The Sizzling Triple offered a trio of meats (shrimp, chicken, beef) and plenty of crunchy veggies in a restrained brown sauce, and a “weight watchers” portion of Szechuan string beans with an egg roll and fried rice was hardly “light.” By this point, practically every table was full of happy, well-fed diners who’ve been aware of this regional Chinese “secret” for years. Now the rest of the city can know.
8664 East 96th Street
Monday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Friday: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Food: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Service: 4 stars