Here in Los Angeles, the words “Inglewood” and “Chinese food” when used in the same sentence, don’t always inspire the greatest confidence. In fact, they bring to mind the greasy, goopy fare found at the countless versions of the “$1 Chinese” shops across the city. So I was a little suspicious when a friend recommended “Wok on the Wild Side”, an Inglewood Chinese restaurant in a two-story strip mall between a nail salon and a Louisiana Fried Chicken. Few things good have come out of pun-titled eateries. However, my state of mind began to change when another friend recommended the restaurant yet again, and this time referred to a specific dish, the Hot Link Fried Rice. Chinese-Soul Food fusion? Now, I was intrigued.
Owner Li Kung and her husband Chi Ge run the restaurant by themselves, with Li working the front of the house and Chi Ge working the kitchen. Li was previously a health food cooking instructor in Manhattan Beach, until she and her husband, who was at first reluctant to jump into the restaurant world, decided to open Wok on the Wild Side. Li’s husband, Chi Ge, is a tall, burly man who could pass for an Asian-version of the Soup Nazi. When I ask him about being a chef, he bluntly tells me that he has never liked cooking for others. He wants to cook his way, and doesn’t liked being nitpicked by customers. Li is much more ameliorating. The business does a brisk amount of take-out, and you will often see Li suggesting customizations for unsure customers on the phone. Like many marriages, they’re opposing viewpoints seems to somehow mesh well together, that is, if the food is any indication.
Their most popular dish, she tells me, is their Hot Link Fried Rice. Li’s cooking often tacks toward more healthful items, evident in the second dish she suggests, mixed vegetables with tofu. Her husband, though, prefers to cook to his taste: spicy, hearty dishes of his hometown in Northern China. In fact, when he reads from the menu ticket that I ordered my food spicy he peeks out from the kitchen to ask me exactly how spicy I want it.
“The way you like it”, I say.
He gives an assuring nod and fires up his wok.
Their fried rice seems to split the difference between the pairs’ styles. Chi Ge toasts a fiber-rich mix of brown rice, barley, mung bean and flax-seed in a large wok lacquered with sesame oil. Next is a handful of collard greens, which Li grows in her own garden, and several slices of bright red Louisiana-style hot links and a handful of plump shrimp.
The plate arrives sizzling with heavy wafts of garlic and chili. Brown rice can often be stodgy and clumpy, here it's heft evens out the spice of the Creole sausage, an addition which could easily be a stand in for chinese lap chong. The toasted grains lend an earthy richness and distinct texture that separates this variation from a typical fried rice. The collard greens are crisp and slightly bitter, once again being a clever substitution for the usual bok choy. Taken together, this is a complete meal in a single plate.Most of the other dishes here; the green curry, mandarin chicken and chow mein aren't anything special (an exception being the mixed vegetables which were astoundingly fresh and flavorful). But the rich scent of their fried rice continues to haunt my dreams. They would never admit, but Li and Chi Ge are definitely on to something revolutionary.
Wok on the Wild Side
929 N La Brea Ave
Inglewood, CA 90302