Chop suey is a dish long synonymous with Chinese cuisine. Many local restaurants have the name of that menu item in their name: King Chop Suey (Oak Park), #1 Chop Suey (Oak Park), China Chop Suey (Galewood), and Chop Suey Kitchen (Austin).
It seems unlikely that many newer Chinese restaurants would choose to identify with a specific dish, and the practice of putting “chop suey” in the restaurant name is a little old-timey, a flashback to the days when chop suey was all that anyone knew of Chinese food.
Last year for National Chop Suey Day (August 29), I visited King Chop Suey; this year I visited Oak Park’s other chop suey-named restaurant: #1 Chop Suey (242 Chicago Avenue). Both are located in strip malls.
Predictably, about $7 buys a lot of chop suey at #1 Chop Suey. You could probably feed a family of three – or one teenage boy – on one order of this chop suey.
In the genre of Midwestern strip mall Chinese, our food from #1 Chop Suey was pretty good: the vegetables – broccoli, carrots and mung bean sprouts – seemed fresh and were not overcooked: they were crunchy and had surprisingly good color. And the meat was…velveted.
Beef chop suey at #1 Chop Suey contained the soft, slightly slippery beef that I used to believe, erroneously, was super-tenderized to render it palatable. That was an incorrect assumption. The beef in the chop suey at #1 Chop Suey and elsewhere is called, in Chinese, something like “velvet meat.” Velveting involves marinating the protein (beef, chicken, etc.) for about 30 minutes in water, salt and cornstarch. The meat is quickly fried in a wok over high heat and then held off to the side as the vegetables cook; finally, everything is briefly cooked together.
Velveting coats the meat with a thin film of moist corn starch, which keeps it from drying out even when it’s subjected to high-heat wok cooking. Genius. If you make stir fry at home, and the meat doesn’t taste or feel quite like the stuff from a Chinese take-out restaurant, it’s probably because you haven’t velveted the meat.
#1 Chop Suey is clean and well-run, and it seems to be mostly take-out, though there are tables in the dining room. This is a place I would recommend as long as you keep your expectations at the right level: remember this is high-value, fast food; it’s bears little resemblance to the fancier Asian places we have around town, like Mora Asian Kitchen or Katy’s Dumpling House, neither of which list chop suey on their online menus. Perhaps that’s because this dish, though classic, is a little too, um, déclassé.
#1 Chop Suey has no website, and it seems you can’t order ahead, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem. Our order was ready in less than five minutes.
Note: reviewer is anonymous and pays for all meals; viewpoints expressed are those of the reviewer alone.