Here’s a convincing argument that just about anyone can like something in just about any cuisine: Choi’s China Wing’s Philly cheesesteak.
Which is Korean.
The sandwich uses the beef – slightly sweet, marinated, sliced sirloin – that’s employed in the marvelous Korean staple entree called bulgogi (say bull-go-ghee), and ... it works.
But if I can talk any newcomers to Korean food into going to Choi’s China Wing, maybe I can talk you into just going straight to that bulgogi, sometimes called Korean barbecue.
Or perhaps you’ll even try the toothsome noodles in black bean sauce called jang myun, or the spicy seafood soup with noodles called jham bong. Those are what Jong and Yong Choi first began offering, at the enthusiastic request of fellow Koreans, a decade ago.
Minae Choi manages the place, and has since 2011. She has a keen understanding of what’s worked for her family in this Arrowood Road spot, once a Long John Silver’s, the last 18 years.
Her parents took over the China Wing back then, and decided to keep its fried-rice-and-chicken-wing menu. And though Minae Choi says most of their takeout business is now Korean food, she has no intention of changing that diverse lineup – or the name of the place.
“People suggest so many names. ‘You should just (call it) ‘Korean Wings’ or ‘Soul Wings.’ We keep it because it’s easy to remember! It’s very nice that people take an interest.
“But Johnson & Wales students come in (to eat and talk about restaurants), and I tell them if you just do Korean in Charlotte – Charlotte’s growing, but you still have to focus on a lot of different demographics.”
China Wing does, and its spare and inexpensive look (there’s a drive-through!) is in keeping with its price range.
Its fried rice method is unusual: Uncooked rice is smoked in a wok, then prepared to order, she says. There’s the cheesesteak, and China Wing offers a combo takeout of rice, cheesesteak and wings, too.
The diversity “fits a lot of people.... Everyone can order everything.” (She’s drawing the line at sushi, though, she says with a laugh. No sushi.)
Still, the percentage of Korean food sold has definitely risen. She cites a number of military veterans who remember bulgogi from their time in Korea and return for it.
That’s a fine choice. But if you’re willing to dive right in, try those noodles or the spicy soup, which sports mussels, shrimp and squid, and a significant, but not punishing, heat. And start with the crunchy, rich kimchee pancake: chunks of pork (there’s a seafood version, too), with scallions sprinkled atop the beautifully browned round.
Kimchee refers to an assortment of fermented side dishes in Korean cuisine, though in America, it’s mostly thought of in its spicy-sour Napa cabbage version. That’s what comes with this pancake, along with bright yellow, sweet-edged, sliced pickled turnip. Delicious.
Classics such as bibimbap (beef, vegetables and an egg atop rice), galbi (short rib) and Korean sausage are available, too. Service is quick; the Choi parents still cook, says Minae, and she is often serving, quickly and capably.
She can imagine opening a purely Korean restaurant, in a few years, perhaps. But now: “I think what we’re doing is OK.”
Choi’s China Wing
Korean fare, plus – yes, Chinese, and wings.
808 E. Arrowood Road; 704-643-1212.
HITS: Kimchee pancake, black bean noodles (jang myun) and bulgogi.
MISSES: Fried squid was a bit overcooked.
PRICES: Korean fare ranges from about $8 to $18; six wings or an order of fried rice is about $6; Chinese entrees run about $9-$12.
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
INSPECTION SCORE: 97.5 Jan. 23.
☆☆☆☆= excellent; ☆☆☆= good;☆☆= fair;☆= poor