Chef Tony Hu has officially opened Lao Youju, his fourth restaurant in Chinatown, and we recently joined friends there to try it out as his guests. This new restaurant and lounge has a more upscale dining room than the majority of its neighbors, complete with modern streamlined furniture and swanky old-school red booths lining the walls. The look and feel of the menu and the food on it appears to be a step up too — the menu is chalked full of fancy photos, and the food itself is is beautifully plated on distinctive dishware that was specially designed to showcase it. But in the end, despite the shinny packaging, Lao Youju didn’t strike me as all that different from the other places in Chinatown with a menu a mile long. In fact, it’s a restaurant with a bit of an identity crisis.
That’s because It’s hard to tell what the focus of the place is, and it tries to be too much. We sampled a good portion of the menu — a parade of dishes like Steamed Tofu Hunan Style, Raindrop Sticky Rice Ball, Steamed Tofu Hunan Style, Tony’s Special Crispy Shrimp, Szechuan String Beans, Three Kingdom Steamed Egg, Chicken with Chestnut in Red Wine Sauce, Fluffy pancake, Honey Lotus Roots with Sticky Rice, Dragon Beard Beef, and Radish with Cilantro Szechuan Style. They were all tasty, and beautiful, but not standout and they didn’t really work together. Authentic Chinese food is always a surprise, and so was this. But these dishes struck me as a hodgepodge of flavors and cooking styles — apparently from different regions — all competing to dominate my taste buds. The service is a little uneven as well, but I chalk that up to Lao Youju being the new kid on the block. It will level out, and the place is certainly not short on hospitality.
Hu keeps the food affordable with starters anywhere from $4 to $8, and shareable entrees for $20 to $30, putting an nice evening out within reach of those on a budget. The place has a fun vibe, and early in the evening it might be family friendly too. Still, if you’re looking for excellent, authentic Chinese food at a good price, I’m not entirely convinced that you wouldn’t be better off at the right hole-in-the-wall down the street.
That leads me to only one conclusion… I need to eat at more restaurants in Chinatown to find out! Where should I go? Please share your favorites.
2002 S Wentworth Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
We dined free-of-charge.