Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.

Wok N Roll Chinese Food

OH YES it’s the dirty world of chinese takeout! greasy, fried, MSG-laden, asian-styled food based off of bastardized recipes copied and pasted so many times over that it seems there may in fact be a portal going from the entrance of every takeout chinese restaurant to the same gross, sweaty kitchen. why do they exist in such numbers? why do they have to have such stupid names (happy wok, golden dragon, ho king, wok stock and two smoking barrels, etc)?? and is it racist of me to say they all look the same??? probably. probably.

wok n roll

one hungry afternoon, my girlfriend and i decided to get some delicious chinese food, and rather than do something nice like tc choy’s, we instead opted for shit. near our apartment is a little joint called wok n roll, proud winners of the “i’ve heard that one before” restaurant name award. they’re stuck on kennedy and south habana, they do takeout and delivery, and there’s a bit of space inside to sit down if you’re so inclined. and they are exactly what you’d expect. there. that’s it! review done. DONE.


we rolled up and perused the menu, which may or may not double as a placemat. and when i say “may or may not”, i’m being serious; these places meld together, so it could have been the one with the placemat menu, or it could have been the one with the foldy menu. i don’t know. i don’t really care. it’s all the same stuff anyway. we ordered a couple lunch specials, and crab rangoon as a little treat. a tiny delight.

pork lo mein

i got my standard order, the pork lo mein. i find it to be the most awesome of chinese foods, and i think you should too. it came out exactly as it does in a number of other chinese places. nothing special. didn’t have those pea pod guys… i don’t know if that was a loss or not, really. basically, if you want standard lo mein, you can get it here. maybe it’s a bit greasier.

on a repeat visit, i ordered pork lo mein, and got magic lo mein with shrimps and chickens in it. still no pea pods.

crab rangoon

their crab rangoon was also middle-of-the-road-tastic, with not very much cream cheesey goodness on the inside, and the outside was a bit soft. they tasted fine, but they were definitely lackluster. they enjoyed a delicious rebirth, though, when we reheated them by way of deep-fryer. they were then much crispier and far better overall.

orange chicken*picture may or may not be orange chicken.

and finally, their nasty orange chicken. the orange flavor tasted artificial to me, like something you might find in a candy, and too sweet. i could stand no more than one of these nuggets, and even then it caused me to shudder as though i were a kid taking nasty medicine. my girlfriend liked it though, and she was the one who ordered it, so i guess i can’t really fault them too much for it. she noted that it was very saucy, and a little bit spicy. also: chickeny.

and that’s it. i wish i could say more, coming down hard on one side or the other. but honestly, you know what you’re getting into here. i’ve eaten from here twice, and was neither time thrilled nor all that disappointed. you want some average, shitty chinese? go here. you want something a little nicer? just who do you think you are, buddy? you think you’re better than me? huh? HUH? yeah. i thought so.

Wok & Roll on Urbanspoon

TC Choy’s Asian Bistro

ohhh man remember pf chang? dude that guy was a class act. he made chinese cool again! and bistros. american chinese bistros. he was an american chinese hero.

wait… what? you’re telling me he wasn’t a real person? i see. apparently, DR. PF CHANG is actually a fictional character, created for marketing purposes. kinda like jimmy carter. as it turns out, the name “pf chang” actually came from the two creators of the restaurant chain, as the following diagram depicts:

what a beautiful union! and from that union popped out a somewhat hip chinese restaurant chain where you eat lettuce with your hands. what a country! so obviously such a rousing triumph of food eatery is bound to spawn countless imitators, and, sure enough, along comes tc choy’s asian bistro. as before, the two co-founders combined their names to make it seem that they were one giant, powerful man:

these are the true masterminds behind stealing pf chang’s thunder. but, surprisingly, the thievery is more or less limited to the the similar name, and the upscale atmosphere. and the asian themed cuisine. OTHERWISE, they’re mostly different restaurants. pretty much. and tc choy’s holds its own. in fact, i may go as far as saying i prefer the choy to the chang. suck it, chang.

tc choy's

tc choy’s is located on howard in hyde park. you can tell it’s some sort of asian place by the entrance. why, it feels like i’m in the heart of china!! no, it doesn’t really. it just feels like hyde park. but luckily, at this point you’re on the outskirts of douchebag territory. you’re safe here, friend.

inside choy's

inside you’re transported into the elegant world of american chinese bistros. it’s a little fancy, but the staff seems down to earth and cool enough not to make you feel out of place. assuming you’re like me. if you’re more into places like bern’s, then perhaps this will feel like an outhouse to you. i don’t know… i can’t really get a sense for these things. anyway, just look at the picture, and figure it out for yourself. maybe i shouldn’t be using words like “outhouse” in a review of a place that i actually enjoyed. hmm.

choy’s menu feels massive. the online menu looks relatively small, but when you’re in the restaurant trying to pick out one dish to eat, you can easily be overwhelmed. they offer all sorts of exciting asian-type things, such as sushi! and clay pot dishes! and dim sum! and FUCKING BENTO BOXES. okay, so maybe i’m a child, but bento on a menu excites me. i was sold. but first, there was sushi to be had.

volcano special roll

as recommended by our server, the most popular sushi at choy’s is the volcano special roll. i was caught off guard when i learned they had a volcano special roll… the only time i’d ever had one, or even heard of one, was at jo-to, which is my favorite sushi place. since moving to hyde park, i’ve made repeated visits to jo-to, and every time i get the volcano special roll. it is the best. the best sushi ever.

so i’m not really sure if choy stole the volcano roll from jo-to, in keeping with their thievery motif, or if maybe it’s just a more common roll than i thought. regardless of the origin, choy’s take on the roll was magnificent. i was really blown away by it. i don’t remember specifics, but its main components were crab, cream cheese, a wild spicy baked crab salad, and roe on top. it’s a similar build to jo-to’s, but the difference is huge. the crab salad here is hot in temperature as well as spice. it has an awesome bite to it. and it is cooked to charred on certain parts, which is actually delicious; its warm, crispy, lightly burned flavor provides a perfect counterpoint to the fresh, soft, cool sushi roll it tops. i had no idea i was going to be so pleased.

i cannot really compare it to the volcano roll at jo-to… they are so very different. both are delicious. choy’s is definitely fancier.

sushi boat

my girlfriend got a boat of sushi. i’m unable to determine precisely what the order was, as their online menu is a bit out of date, and i’m still too stubborn to take notes when i go out to eat, but rest assured that it came in a boat. there was an assortment of nigiri, the sexiest of the sushi, and then a single roll of… some sort. the roll contained three different types of fish, but i honestly can’t remember any specifics on it beyond that it had something… something sweet in there. probably. maybe some roe.

i did not eat any of the nigiri, but i did have one of the pieces of the roll. this particular roll had the nori on the outside, and its diameter was almost twice that of a normal roll. eating it was intense and potentially humorous. the main thing i took away from the sushi is how fresh the ingredients were, and how high quality they seemed to be. it was a very pleasant experience.

szechuan chicken bento box

nothing is as awesome as a little box containing all of your favorite parts of the meal, separated out by little dividers. remember a simpler time? this is like that, but cool and japanesy. included in this particular bento box meal (none of which are described on tc choy’s website) is a fruity mango salad, gyoza with dipping sauce, vegetable lo mein, and szechuan chicken. a full meal. the salad was fresh and delicious, with lettuce, pineapple, delightful cucumbers, carroty slices, and completely unnecessary cherry tomatoes. screw those little guys. the mango dressing, behind the box in the photo, was delicious; sweet and tart. the gyoza was delightful. the lo mein was everything it should have been. and the szechuan chicken was delicious, with a good spice and somewhat unique sauce. everything in the box was above my expectations, and very good.

again, my impression was largely that their best feature was the quality of the ingredients used. a lot of the bento was stuff you could get in any number of places, but everything here tastes much more fresh, and all came together better, than almost any other asian place i can think of (still a bigger fan of the original yummy house, though).

so it’s a good spot. high quality food. classy atmosphere. diverse menu. excellent sushi. and bento boxes for the kids. the bill for the two of us came to somewhere around 60 dollars, and we both agreed that it was completely worth it. i really liked the place. and that choy is a pretty cool guy.  eh cooks chinese and doesn’t afraid of anything.

T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Yummy House

yummy house


there’s something special about the yummy house. as though it exists outside our own world. just beyond our universe. perhaps it’s from another dimension? another plane of existence? maybe it’s from the future. or the recent past. whatever reality the yummy house exists in, it is certainly a delicious one. an authentic chinese one, to be sure.

located on waters among countless unassuming strip malls, and itself sharing a strip mall with my favorite local boba spot, got tea?, the yummy house is not a restaurant that would catch your eye. if anything, you may be annoyed that you noticed it at all, wasting countless milliseconds of “you” time. but looks can be deceiving my friend, and in this case they most certainly are, for the yummy house is quite possibly the best chinese restaurant in tampa bay.

say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

inside yummy house

the interior is much the same as the exterior – looks like crap. well, kinda crappy. to one side of the restaurant, you will find whole ducks and other bird-like items roasting, which is kind of fun to look at. but otherwise it looks like crap. the owners are clearly not into interior decorators, and that is just fine with me, because the energy they don’t spend on making this place looks pretty, they are surely channeling into making the food be awesome.

i went with a group of nine total, and called ahead. do this. otherwise you’ll be forced to wait for a table, and look generally schmucky. although i guess the tables clear pretty quickly, so you likely won’t be waiting too long. but the restaurant was packed on this particular saturday night. we were sat at a fairly clean table in a fairly efficient manner, and the server was fairly pleasant. our glasses were kept full, and our food was brought out as it was ready. the staff knows what they’re doing, and will answer your questions about the (unfortunately picture-less and description-less) menu, but the sense i get from this place is that the service is only there because it’s necessary to get the food on the tables. all that matters here is the food. and luckily, the food is exceptional.

the menu is huge. here is a link to some low-quality pictures of the menu, though a lot of it is unreadable. but you will be able to see that it is eight pages long, and that’s not including the seasonal specials pasted to the front page. the menu has choices running the range from what you might expect of any chinese restaurant (egg rolls, kung pao chicken, hunan beef, etc) to exotic dishes (cold jellyfish salad, sizzling frog with ginger scallions, cantonese style chicken feet… etc), and a wealth of items that you just won’t find in other places (chinese hot pots, several different varieties of noodles, peking duck, twelve different types of soup including shark’s fin soup). the dishes are all over the place, with something to satisfy everyone, and enough variety to never be able to try it all. and everything i’ve had here is prepared immaculately.

the food is best ordered for the table, and shared among your party. the larger tables have lazy susans on them to facilitate this, and the portions are big enough that everyone in my group of nine was able to get a generous helping of each dish. we began with soups and an appetizer.

egg drop soup

this was probably the best egg drop soup i’ve ever had. they take the classic egg drop soup (a solid base) and throw in a whole bunch of different vegetables, including mushrooms and baby corn. WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT? mushrooms! baby corn! just taking a classic and making it that much better, adding their own touch to it. the vegetables played in well the the egg drop soup flavor, not detracting from the flavor, but not adding too much either. rather, it mostly served as interesting additions to texture.

wonton soup

we also got the hong kong wonton soup, which was pretty good, although did not pack as much flavor as i’d have liked. the broth alone would not be enough without the wontons and the vegetables. the wontons were very nice, large enough to satisfy, but not so large that they could not be eaten in one bite by humorously rude customers such as myself.

salt and pepper tofu

one of my friends ordered the salt and pepper fried tofu, something i’d never had from the yummy house before, or even heard of. turns out that the salt and pepper tofu was practically the best part of the meal. they took simply fried chunks of tofu and tossed them in red pepper flakes, salt, green and red onions, and cilantro. that’s it. but they were so good. salty and spicy. crisp on the outside, soft and warm in the center. just amazing. i will order this every time i go from now on.

and then came the meals.

sesame chicken

sesame chicken. pretty standard stuff here. but the beauty is that even the most basic dish they serve, one that you might find anywhere else, is still well prepared, and tastes better than anywhere else will make it. good, sweet, crispy sesame chicken.

mongolian beef

the mongolian beef. the best ever? quite possibly. rich in spices, ridiculously flavorful slices of meat tossed together with scallions and onions, with every bite packing a spicy punch. this is the essential chinese dish, so good we ordered it twice.

pepper chicken

i believe this was called pepper chicken, but i don’t quite remember. i do remember it being very good though, the strong chicken dish on the table. with big chunks of green peppers, sliced zucchini, and delicious chicken tossed in a savory and slightly sweet sauce, this was one of the best items we had.

fried rice with chinese sausage

fried rice with chinese sausage. i had never heard of such a thing! the sausage, not the rice. the sausage was diced into small bits, and tasted of pork. it was sweet, and felt almost like a breakfast sausage. very good, thrown in among lightly fried rice packed with egg and scallions. an order of any of their fried rice plates along with the meal is not essential, but adds a lot to it (they do bring out unlimited pots of steamed white rice with your order, which works well for a big group).

spicy eggplant

one member of our group was a vegetarian, and so he ordered the spicy eggplant. i was a dick and stole some. BWAHAHAHA. it was not spicy enough to be called spicy eggplant, but it was pretty good. it was large cuts of eggplant in a thick sauce, very soft and tender, with other assorted vegetables thrown in the mix.

singapore style rice noodles

the singapore style rice noodles were also very nice – extremely thin, light rice noodles, with a good blend of vegetables, egg, and featuring both pork and shrimp, all in a less heavy sauce than most of the dishes.

beef pan fried noodles with black pepper

i chose the beef pan-fried noodles with black pepper, the same dish i always end up getting when i go to the yummy house. it has carrots, mushrooms, and crazy bok choy (this proved a pain to eat), and beef, atop a bed of noodles. the sauce used is rather mild, making this dish probably the least interesting to taste of everything we had that night. it’s just enough to bring all the vegetables and meat together in flavor. and there really was no black pepper detectable at all (this time, though before i recall it being a more prominent part of the dish). so why get it? the noodles. the pan-fried noodles. they are fried to crispness, to the point that you have to break through them to get a serving off the plate. the noodles on top upon which the sauce and toppings sit become wet and tender, but those below remain crunchy, providing an incredibly unique textural combination, which keeps me getting it every time.

the yummy house simply makes the best chinese food i’ve ever had. presentation be damned; it’s the best prepared food, served in huge portions, catering to groups of people willing to share their meals with each other, and it’s completely affordable. i don’t think any of us ended up spending over fifteen dollars, with the majority of us spending less than ten dollars each. everyone left full, with some food left over.

oh, and apparently it’s BYOB, so feel free to bring your own homemade moonshine or rubbing alcohol!

Yummy House on Urbanspoon

Golden Inn Chinese Restaurant

when i was a child, i got my teeth cleaned there. then the dentist’s office closed down. now it has become the SINGLE GREATEST CHINESE RESTAURANT KNOWN TO MAN. scientifically proven.

okay maybe that’s a bit far, but still, golden inn (i don’t even know if this is their website, but i enjoy it regardless) has been my family’s favorite chinese place for years, dating back to when it first opened, when i was maybe in the sixth grade? for however long it’s been around, we’ve gone to it. and we’ve loved it.

honestly, it’s a pretty standard chinese restaurant. it predates the cookie-cutter hole-in-the-wall chinese places that are so common today, so it’s not quite the same as all the rest. the lady who runs the restaurant is very nice, and has been so ever since we first started going there. she kindly welcomes you in, humors your crude attempts at chinese, and makes you feel at home. in fact, she recently gained “notoriety” for putting up a tree each year for the holidays, and having customers decorate it with dollar bills, and then donating all the money to charity. it’s a nice cause, and it is an indication of the person behind the food.

we haven’t eaten at the restaurant as a family in many years, but whenever we have chinese food together, we order takeout from golden inn. they have a fairly large menu, with all the classics you expect from a chinese place. we always go all out and order practically one of everything.

full plate

this is what i end up with. a plate filled with crap. it’s basically a buffet. i won’t try to identify each item, but present is general tso’s chicken (always served in gigantic chunks, as seen at around 11 45 on my plate), hunan beef (spicy and sweet all at once), cashew chicken, szechuan pork (spicy!), bourbon chicken (like mall-food chicken, but deliciouser), chicken hong kong noodles (thin rice noodles, very good), pork lo-mein (personal favorite), and fried rice. i’ve likely left something out.

it’s all great quality, though. i wouldn’t say it far exceeds the standard chinese place, but it is certainly the best i’ve ever had from that sort of takeout restaurant. most of the dishes are prepared slightly differently than ordinary takeout joints, adding a bit of personality to golden inn. and their ingredients are good quality, especially the vegetables.


…and they throw in some desserts, completely complimentary! maybe it’s only for large takeout orders, maybe it’s for all of them. i’d like to think it’s just for our family. but that’s probably not true. whatever the case, with every meal we get, we also receive free “chinese donuts” and honey glazed fried bananas. awesome.

it’s just a special feeling you get, hauling home giant tsingtao boxes filled with containers of chinese food, tubs of egg drop soup (the best), millions of packets of soy sauce and the like, and a few fortune cookies thrown on top. just a good family dinner.


Golden Inn Chinese on Urbanspoon

Super Buffet

super buffet

what a great name. i mean really – super buffet. that’s a good buffet. only beaten by mega buffet, which of course is beaten by ultra buffet. i guess the best would be “ultimate buffet”. could you imagine going there? ULTIMATE BUFFET. you would never need to go to a buffet again…

oh shit.

well, barring a trip to colorado, it looks like super buffet will have to do. which is alright with me, because the asian super buffet is fairly super. located in wesley chapel on SR54 near bruce b downs, super buffet takes over the location from a failed johnny carino’s, going from italian to chinese/japanese/asian (i’m pretty sure it was……. asian). it was a nice, big joint, so the people moving in had a lot to work with. and they have really made it their own.

the buffet

it’s got a big buffet. i mean, that’s the whole thing. a huge, wacky buffet. it’s in the center of the restaurant, and this picture does not do it justice (blurriness aside). on the right in the picture you see three main bars with the majority of what you’re going to get (and some hilarious american dishes you won’t touch, such as overcooked cardboard pizza). to the left side of the main bars in the picture is the huge sushi bar, in the middle of which you can see sushi chefs tirelessly churning out fresh rolls. and there is a dessert bar near the wall. in the back, you will find a small bar with raw items you can pick from and have a chef cook for you at the mongolian grill. nice.

all around the center buffet are rooms with seating in them, and a few scattered television sets. every ten feet or so stands a server, quietly observing everyone, ready to refill your drink the moment you need it. for a buffet, this place has frightening great service.

egg drop soup

ALWAYS START A CHINESE MEAL WITH EGG DROP SOUP. if you don’t, you’re a jerk. or maybe it’s a texture thing you’ve got? i dunno i guess you don’t have to, but i always do. it’s like saying a blessing, if blessings were eggy and delicious, sometimes with chives. so… much better. their soup was about average; nothing special, but it gets the job done.

a plate of goodness

PLATE ONE: first trip up, grabbing the best of the best: spring roll, egg roll, lo mein noodles, fried rice with pork, mushroom pork, peppers with steak, and a couple coconut shrimp. all fairly delicious. as with the egg drop soup, nothing was particularly incredible, but it was all about as good as the majority of chinese food you’ll find. with the exception of the coconut shrimp – i don’t know exactly what they used, but it was sweet and delicious. if i had to put money on it, i’d say sweetened condensed milk with coconut. but it was wonderful.

actually, they featured a lot of seafood dishes at this place: crab, oyster, shrimp, fish, scallops, etc. this seems like it should be a big draw, because they do a pretty decent job with it. but i am not the biggest seafood fan, so i did not waste precious stomach space on seafood. instead, i forged on with:

…actually, truth be told, the first was the only plate i took a picture of. not that the other items weren’t worthy of photography, but i got caught up in “buffet madness”. they had a lot of other good dishes that i just can’t remember without pictures. bad memory/food daze. sorry! but i did photograph:

from the mongolian grill

my mongolian grill plate. i got noodles and mushrooms, onions, zucchini, and medium-rare steakz, with a teriyaki sauce. mm. yes. this was quite good! cooked to order, and quickly. there were a whole bunch of other options, such as chicken, pork, shrimp, and scallops, but i had to go with steak. they did limit your steak portion though. weaksauce.

and though i took no photos, i have to mention that their sushi is pretty good. i tried a few pieces and was satisfied; it’s not the quality you’d be getting at an actual sushi place, but it’s far superior to what you’d expect at a buffet (i’m looking at you, china buffet!). it’s about on par with publix sushi. but their variety (probably ten different rolls and some nigirizushi as well), freshness, and ease of access makes it worth stopping by just for the sushi.

taro bun

and then there was this. a little taro bun. nothing special, shoved in the back between some plates and the soups. but i loved this little guy! i’ve never had one, but i definitely appreciate taro and taro products, so i knew i needed to try it. it was a soft, squishy little bun with a bit of taro paste on the inside, just lightly sweet. i want a million of them. try it!

so, all in all, super buffet was a pretty good experience. with a drink, it came out to about $16, which was not bad considering the variety of food options available. it does suffer from the food being mostly average, but i feel like most chinese places you’ll go are likely to be strip mall cookie cutter, with the same menu and the same average food at each. at least here you get all you can eat. and sushi and mongolian grill additions make this that much more worth trying (though if you’re looking for one or the other in particular, kaisen or kobe would serve you much better). i recommend it, though i wouldn’t stick around if there’s a line outside… screw that.

Super Buffet on Urbanspoon