Ann (Not) About Town: Charlie Kang’s, ‘A Truly Local Old Standby’

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Editor’s note: Long-time readers know of Ann Nichols’ column “Ann about Town.” Today we bring you a special “Ann (Not) about Town” as Ann orders delivery from one of her downtown favorites, Charlie Kang’s.

As we learned in kindergarten, we should “make new friends, but keep the old.” Charlie Kang’s is an old standby, far less flashy than some newer options, but it is truly local, and has been feeding my family high-quality Korean and Chinese food for at least 20 years.

Long before every restaurant meal was either delivered or picked up curbside, there was a weekly tradition in our house: on the day when we were most tired, most stressed, most unwilling to pick up a pot or a spatula, we ordered in. Ninety percent of the time we ordered Chinese, always from Charlie Kang’s. (Which is really Korean. But I’ll get to that.)

Captain Carnivore and I are trying to help local restaurants survive this great disruption, and our current plan is to order in twice a week, to order enough that we have leftovers, and to tip both the restaurant and the driver at a rate just past generous.

Last night we ordered from Charlie Kang’s, through Uber Eats (below) which I like because the interface always makes me smile. The food was at our door in less than 10 minutes, although that’s at least partially due to the fact that we live close to downtown East Lansing. But still, that’s pretty fast.

As appetizers we ordered egg rolls (pork, although there is a vegetarian option) and the chicken wings. I don’t know for sure, but I always suspect that, unlike many restaurants serving egg rolls, Charlie Kang’s actually makes theirs from scratch. Suffice it to say they are everything one wants in an egg roll, from crispness of wrap to the ratio of filling items.

We also tried the chicken wings, which lean more Korean than Chinese. These are emphatically not the standard, soulless wings moved from freezer to deep fryer; they are in a light, sweet and spicy sauce and come tucked in with cucumbers, onions, and carrots.

As an entrée, the Captain usually orders Sesame Beef, which is crisp, fried pieces of beef in a sweet and spicy sauce. It always arrives crisp, probably owing to the fact that it’s lightly sauced. Last night he tried the General Tso’s Chicken, which arrived less crisp (lots of sauce) but flavorful.

This confirmed my strong bias in favor of the “sesame” items on the menu. I have had the Sesame Chicken and the Sesame Tofu, the latter being in my top five choices from the Chinese part of Charlie Kang’s menu. But I like tofu.

The exterior of Charlie Kang’s, 109 E. Grand River Ave.

I generally order as my “main” either the Bulgogi, or the Moo shu chicken, and recommend both. Both come in sufficiently generous portions that I get dinner and lunch the following day, and I think they improve overnight. Last night, however, I ordered more strategically. I wanted Chinese and Korean, I wanted leftovers for a couple of days, and I wanted to make my stuffy nose feel better. Enter Mongolian Shrimp and Yukgae Jang.

If you’ve ever been even a casual consumer of Chinese cuisine, you are familiar with Mongolian Beef, a dish with strips of lean beef, scallions and onions in a spicy brown sauce. Charlie Kang’s shrimp version has the fire and the onion bite of a good Mongolian dish, with a nice number of shrimp instead of the beef, a lot of peapods, and a layer of crisp rice noodles. It failed the leftover requirement because I ate it all, but it was spicy enough to help my poor nose, and it felt both soothing and sybaritic to be eating shrimp in my living room watching “Endeavour.”

Yukgae Jang is Korean soup with, dare I say, magical powers. The broth is spicy, and full of shredded flank steak, scallions, egg, and bean noodles. It’s tasty as it comes, but I like to add some kimchee (a small container comes with an order) and sometimes some of our own hot sauce. Last night I had a cup of the broth with a little steak and onion in it as my appetizer, and I have enough left for two very hearty lunches. I can also recommend this dish as a way to dip a toe into Korean food that isn’t Bulgogi or Bibimbap. From there, try the Kimchee Fried Rice, the Kalbee (Korean short ribs), and Mondoo Kuk, a deeply comforting soup with dumplings, rice cakes and beef.

Yukgae Jang is spicy Korean soup full of shredded flank steak, scallions, egg, and bean noodles.

Charlie Kang’s has plenty of vegetarian options, all of which are intentionally crafted to be delicious as opposed to the poor stepchildren of the “real” menu offerings. It’s also possible to eat a healthy meal – the Vegetable Deluxe is a great way to get in some of your daily veggies. As for feeding your kids, there are options. Our kid would always eat pieces of egg roll and Bulgogi with some rice, or a little deconstructed Chicken with Broccoli.

A word about safety: all of the meal delivery businesses will now arrange a no-contact-drop where food is left outside your door. Once the food arrives, we immediately decant it into our own containers, throw away disposable packaging and drop the plastic containers in hot soapy water so we can wash and re-use or recycle them. Then we wash our hands before eating.

You can click here to see a local crowd-sourced list of restaurants now open for take-out and delivery, including Charlie Kang’s. Consider bookmarking that page!

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed

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