Authentic is defined by Webster’s dictionary as something of undisputed origin, genuine, bona fide or real. It’s a definition that also applies to Hot Wok Café, which has provided authentic Chinese cuisine to the Chesterfield area since opening in 1991.
“Our authenticity sets us apart from others,” said Hot Wok Café’s Chef/Owner Andrew Shih whose father, William, established the restaurant and its menu to reflect the culinary experiences the family brought from China and Korea and honed in San Francisco.
“I like to say we do authentic Chinese cuisine with Korean inspiration,” Shih said.
Hot Wok Café’s culinary expertise and menu are the result of its team’s combined experiences.
“I have a great team who has over 30 years experience between everyone,” Shih explained. “We make everything from scratch. All our sauces – even our noodles are homemade.”
Chinese noodle-making today is nearly a forgotten culinary art – abandoned by most Asian chefs who opt for commercially made noodles. But the popularity of Chinese-style noodle bowls has become a foodie fascination, thanks to the popularity of ramen. And the best bowls are made with the best noodles, which Hot Wok Café has.
“Noodles are a lot of work but fresh house-made noodles make a huge difference in the flavor and texture of the dish,” Shih said.
Customers can taste the difference in Ja Jiang Mien and Jum Bong [aka seafood noodle soup] noodle bowls, which are filled with a savory broth and studded with shrimp, calamari, mussels and Chinese vegetables.
Among those standout menu differences is Shih’s more authentic preparation of Sesame Chicken. Here, chicken is sautéed and tossed in a lighter sauce than its American cousin, which is battered, deep-fried and coated it in a heavy, sweet sauce.
Walnut Shrimp is another excellent choice – featuring shelled, ready-to-eat shrimp or a preparation using whole shrimp with their heads and shells still intact. Both preparations feature a lightly spiced sauce that arrives tableside garnished with crisp walnuts.
Fans of sweet and sour, chow mein and egg foo young won’t be disappointed. All the American-Chinese favorites, along with classic traditional dishes, are on Hot Wok Café’s extensive menu, one that includes a rarely seen Chinese specialty, Mu Shu. Haven’t heard of Mu Shu? Think of Mu Shu as a Chinese version of fajitas – thin pancakes into which guests fold meats, veggies and a hoisin flavored sauce.
A house favorite also worth the discovery is Yu Shian Chicken. Shih describes it as less Americanized. A delightful plate of sliced chicken, water chestnuts and vegetables tossed with a spicy garlic sauce.
“If you want to experience something different, come for our Saturday Chinese-style brunch,” said Shih, noting it’s an al carte specialties menu of green onion pancakes, beef sesame buns and Chinese crullers.
“You wouldn’t have thought this was for breakfast but in China it is. Our brunch is really unique. You won’t find this anywhere else in St. Louis.”
Since winning the coveted 2015 Taste of St. Louis People’s Choice Award, Hot Wok Café’s loyal customer base has continued to grow both in its restaurant and its catering.
“We’re proud of what we do. Making everything from scratch,” said Shih. “It’s what sets us apart and is the difference you’ll taste.”