As with many ethnic cuisines, most local Chinese restaurants offer fare that’s been tamed for Western taste buds and preferences. Not First Chinese BBQ in Haltom City. This stuff is the real deal. You won’t find egg rolls or crab rangoon on the bill of fare. You will, however, find Peking duck hanging in the window near the cash register and a five-page menu in both English and Chinese. The menu samples most of China’s regional cooking styles, including barbecued and roasted meats from Canton, spicy offerings from the Szechuan province, and hot pots and Peking duck from northern China. A small chunk of the menu is dedicated to “waste-not, want-not” offerings –– beef stomach, duck feet, pig ear and tongue. That’s a hallmark of all good traditional cooking. I mean, you can’t just throw this stuff away, right?
For starters, the hot and sour soup with pork and tofu was more peppery and vinegary than actually spicy. I asked for some hot mustard. No, I was told. No hot mustard. (And, yes, I felt like a tourist for asking.) But every table does have a small container of incredibly spicy garlic oil, and that did the trick. The soft tofu worked well with the slightly chewy pork strips, and the whole package was deliciously warm and soothing.
If a restaurant has a duck hanging in the front window, you have no excuse not to try the stuff. A good way to sample it is via the entrée that includes half a roasted duck and a generous serving of barbecue pork. Duck is not exactly lean, and the danger with cooking a whole duck (much like cooking a whole turkey) is that the top part dries out while the bottom part remains underdone That didn’t happen here –– the breast and wing had been cooked perfectly and tasted wonderful, with luscious, crispy skin. The pork, each slice bearing a lovely cherry-red ring around the edges, may be the best of its kind in town. The dish was served with an overabundance of fried rice.
There are 20 hot-pot items from which to choose, but after having soup, it seemed more prudent to go with one of the chef’s specialties. The spicy Szechuan eggplant and pork consisted of perfectly roasted eggplant — it was almost gummy — and small pieces of chopped pork, everything swimming in a mouth-watering sweet-spicy brown sauce. The combination of gooey eggplant and meaty sauce was heavenly.
The shrimp with crispy noodles had a mild, velvety base with a generous portion of plump shrimp and al dente veggies in a nest of crunchy fried noodles. It was a welcome, light counterpoint to the pork and duck. If you’re not partial to chow mein-style noodles, the soft noodle dishes might be a better bet.
First Chinese BBQ is open 365 days a year, closing only on Thanksgiving at 6 p.m. (Back when Wan Fu was open on the West Side, I’d enjoy the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas.) And while there are more than 200 items on the menu, there are few truly vegetarian options. Oh, well. And First Chinese is cash only. But the massive portions pretty much guarantee that everyone at your table will go home with yummy leftovers.
First Chinese BBQ
5310 E Belknap St, Ste H and I, Haltom City. 817-834-1888. 11am-9:30pm daily. Cash only.
Hot and sour soup ………………….. $5.75
Roast duck and barbecue pork … $9.50
Shrimp crispy noodles …………….. $8.95
Szechuan eggplant with pork …… $7.25