Since I hadn’t ventured over to review a restaurant on Green Street in many months, I thought it about time I make it back to Campustown and visit a well-established Chinese Restaurant in the area. Billing themselves as having the “Best Chinese Food,” Mandarin Wok had a lot to live up to with their Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Szechuan style dishes. Walking in, I noticed a sign letting me know about a small additional fee if I paid with a card, which I kept in mind for my next visit. After seating myself, I spent a few minutes looking around the interior and was surprised to notice a fish tank in the corner. The fish seemed active from across the restaurant, but I didn’t get closer to try and figure out what kinds of fish they were, as at the same time I noticed the wall menu. Filled with pictures of various dishes, I wasn’t sure where to begin. After a few more minutes and noticing someone go to the front desk and ring the bell for service, I placed my food order and paid before sitting back down. Before I knew it, the first of the dishes I ordered arrived.

Intrigued by their dim sum options, I decided to try a variety, beginning with the BBQ pork bun ($3.60 for three). Surrounded by a soft, spongy bun, I bit into the BBQ Pork Bun expecting a significant amount of sweet or spicy barbeque meat. However, I was disappointed. While the meat inside was sweet and tender, there just wasn’t a substantial amount of barbecue once I made it through the thick bun. Thankfully, I had three of these BBQ Pork Buns to eat and the buns themselves proved to be wonderfully soft and just a bit sweet. While tasty, the BBQ Pork Buns didn’t hold up to my expectations.

Next up were the fried shrimp balls ($3.90 for three). Covered in a thin, crispy shell, I excitedly bit into one of these savory treats and was met with a juicy and warm shrimp interior. While shrimp doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, the fried exterior provided some interesting contrast to the large clump of shrimp inside the ball. While not especially exciting for my palate, I can’t complain about the quantity of the fried shrimp balls, as rolled up shrimp proved more filling than I anticipated. A pleasing comfort food, certainly.

Last of my dim sum order, I tried out the steamed beef with bean curd skin ($3.30 for three). Unsure what to expect, I took a bite and was met with a texture, taste and consistency surprisingly like a ham ball. Yes, a ham ball, the superior version of a meat ball for those unaware of their greatness. Anyway, the steamed beef also contained a few leafy greens mixed with the beef, which I appreciated since it provided much needed flavor variety. Of note, while I don’t doubt the beef balls were surrounded by bean curd skin, I couldn’t taste or see it. Good news for those concerned with that aspect of the dish. While not as rich as the fried shrimp balls, I prefer this final dim sum to the others, as the serving size, flavor and texture was just right for me.

Finishing off my appetizers, I moved onto my main course, Chinese chili chicken ($7.99), served as an economy lunch portion. Accompanied by a side of rice, this chicken dish is more filling than at first glance. The bell peppers, carrots and onions start to add up, adding substance to this already substantial lunch dish. As a note of caution, the spice level is noticeable, but tolerable if the rice gets mixed into the dish. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more heat in my main dish.

With a hint of sweetness and my mouth a little numb from the chili spice, I thought the Chinese chili chicken was a solid, although unspectacular way to end my time at Mandarin Wok. In the end, it also describes my experience overall. Good, sometimes great, but nothing stuck out as amazing to me. However, like Golden Harbor, eating four different foods at Mandarin Work barely scratches the surface, so I am sure I will be back one day to try a few other foods. Until then, I need to spend time researching their menu to plan my next order of dim sum.

Mandarin Wok
403 E Green St
Champaign
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

All photos by Matthew Macomber