It was about a year and a half ago, says manager Alex Chow, that the Great Wall of China South on Carmel Road added a traditional Chinese menu.
The effort started small, and has stayed restrained: about 10 appetizers and soups, six vegetable entrees and as many noodle ones, and about two dozen protein-based mains are on the current list.
Chow estimates now that 30 percent of diners order from it, with 70 percent using the considerably longer Chinese-American menu.
Which is fine.
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I refuse to yell at you if you love your not-really-Chinese crab rangoon and General Tso’s chicken (and I’ll admit to a fondness for the occasional Tso nugget, although let’s agree to avoid the sweet-and-sour topic, OK?).
But what you can do here is try a traditional dish or two (you’ll have to ask for the traditional menu, although a few of its dishes dot the mainstream lineup, too) amid your other ordering. Careful and attentive servers can explain dishes (or summon someone else to answer anything they can’t), and you’ll get to see what you think.
Here are a few particularly worth a look for newcomers:
▪ Steamed chicken. Our server carefully told us – four times! – that there are bones in this dish. Yes: It’s a whole or half chicken hacked into pieces about 3 inches by 2 inches, with bones in. This is succulent meat, served with a sharp garlic-ginger sauce that’s nearly a pesto. It’s OK to use your fingers. And add a few leaves of cilantro to a few bites. Marvelous.
▪ Steamed buns with scallion beef. These are soft, fluffy white buns, folded over, into which you lay shreds of beef cooked with scallions. “Like tacos!” I’ve heard. OK, if it’ll get people to try it ...
▪ Ho-fun (also known as chow fun) noodles – wide rice noodles (if you know Thai food’s pad see ew, you’ll know the sort) that are tender and can be ordered with a variety of proteins.
▪ Ma Po Tofu. Stories on the origin of this silken-tofu-cubes-in-spicy-pork-studded-sauce abound. Long story short, it’s a lush and flavorful dish, and conservatively seasoned here: If you want it hot, you’ll need to specify that.
Servers work together and the place often bustles with large parties sharing dishes from Lazy Susans. You’ll spot the occasional bubbling clay pots (mine held a squid-heavy seafood assortment that was fine but underseasoned), though I didn’t see anyone with the fondue-like cook-your-own ones that Lam offered at Dynasty.
Other dishes include several proteins with X.O. sauce (that’s made with dried shellfish and garlic but is considerably less pungent than you might guess) and several offered salt-and-pepper style: Here, that means they’re heavily battered and fried, then seasoned, and remain fairly oily. Not as good as other versions I’ve had in town (Dragon Court and Dim Sum come to mind).
But in south Charlotte, it’s a pleasure to have more options.
Details: Dinner entrees about $9-$30 (lunch about $6-$9); 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, to 9:30 Sunday. 6666 Carmel Road; 704-542-5409; www.greatwallofchinasouth.com.