College Park is known for many things: bars populated by suspiciously cherubic 21-year-olds, pizza restaurants that thrive off the aforementioned crowd and the most 7-Elevens per square mile in the world (not an official statistic). Unfortunately, quality Chinese food has never been a Terp-town staple, as made evident by the fact that no restaurant serving Chinese in the College Park area has higher than a 3.5-star rating on Yelp. (The three restaurants holding this rank of high acclaim? Kiyoko Express and … both Panda Express locations.) However, a newly opened hidden gem lies below the signage for the now-defunct OVO Simply Veggie on Route 1. Its name? Northwest Chinese Food. Its game? Authentic Chinese cuisine that makes Panda Express look as foreign as a McDonald’s.
The food is in no way Americanized Chinese, so don’t go in expecting to find a menu full of chow mein and shrimp that’s sweet, slippery and other food adjectives that begin with the letter “s.” Instead, start off with the various spiced skewers equipped with delicious and savory lamb, chicken or pork perfectly seasoned with a mouthwatering cumin flavor. Next, try one of the eight different knife-cut noodle options offered by the restaurant. For $8, the hot oil-seared knife-cut noodles are a delectable lunch or dinner treat that will do minimal harm to your already barren wallet. Also, I highly recommend splurging the additional dollar charge for a minced pork topping with the noodles, providing a flavorful, tender source of always-needed protein.
Yelp reviewers seem to have scathing opinions of Northwest Chinese Food’s service, but I personally saw the staff treat customers with nothing but the utmost respect. The waitress explained how to go about the menu and didn’t pressure me into ordering more food than I desired. The only true negative element of the experience — a minor one at that — was that the hot tea I ordered was warm at best, with uncomfortably room-temperature a more accurate description. However, when you can sneak out of any restaurant as a college student with a quality meal for two that only sets you back $17 (not counting a tip — and please tip, people), tea can be brought out at any temperature above freezing.
I really do hope that Northwest Chinese Food is able to make it in the ever-so-monotonous landscape of College Park restaurants. The food is excellent and original yet, most importantly, ridiculously affordable. It’s puzzling that the owners of Northwest Chinese have yet to remove the sign for what was formerly OVO Simply Veggie, and even more peculiar that the only way to know that the restaurant exists whatsoever is by the little sign bearing its name in the window. If you’re looking for classic sloppy chicken prepared with some mysterious sauce and accompanying noodles and vegetables that microwave suspiciously well the next day, Northwest Chinese Food is not for you. However, if you seek a satisfying meal in a town full of extraordinarily average bites, go and make sure Northwest Chinese Food gets the business that it deserves.