In south Charlotte, Korean delicacies in an unlikely wrapper

At first glance, it’s nothing special, just a neighborhood fast-food joint. Sign says “China Wing.” The building looks like a tired Long John Silver franchise. Inside the door, take-out customers wait for egg rolls, wings, Philly cheese steaks.

Keep walking, though, and you’re in a cozy little mom-and-pop Korean restaurant.

Yong Choi and her husband Jong Choi came to the U.S. seeking opportunities for their children not available in South Korea’s regimented society. They opened China Wing in 1996. Today, daughter Min Ae Choi is often behind the counter.

We asked Min Ae’s recommendation and discovered an off-menu special that’s a favorite with Koreans: Bibim Noodle. Wheat noodles are tossed in chili paste with your choice of meat plus delicate slivers of onion, garlic, julienned cucumber and bits of kim chee, the pickled cabbage found at most Korean meals. It’s served cold, the chill balancing the slight, pleasant heat of the chilies, explains Min.

Another standout is bulgogi, popularly known as Korean barbecue. Thin-sliced morsels of sweetly marinated beef arrive on a sizzling iron platter – more like fajitas than Carolina-style ’cue.

“My mom makes the barbecue. My dad’s specialty is the noodle dishes,” says Min Ae. Customers have become family, she notes, pointing to marks by the front door that record heights of diners’ children over the years.

China Wing is tucked away just off South Boulevard on Arrowood Road near the LYNX Blue Line’s Arrowood stop. Corporate offices in South Charlotte have numerous Korean employees, especially Korean-owned tire-component manufacturer Hyosung USA.

On a recent Saturday, young Korean professionals filled many of the tables. Clientele is notably diverse, according to Min Ae, including people retired from the military who discovered Korean food overseas, “and Latinos who come in for our spicy seafood noodle soup.”