JOCO Dining: Where to head to satisfy your hunger this Chinese New Year

Dragon Inn in Downtown Overland Park has become a Johnson County institution.
Dragon Inn in Downtown Overland Park has become a Johnson County institution after more than four decades in operation.

By Charles Ferruzza

I suspect that I should be a lot more excited about the impending arrival – tomorrow, Jan. 28 – of the 2017 Chinese New Year. It does, after all, usher in the Year of the Rooster (you can consult the nearest paper placemat at your neighborhood Chinese joint about what that means).

But tomorrow isn’t merely the beginning of the Year of the Rooster, which has meaning to all the Roosters out there – people born in the years 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 – but special meaning for the Baby Boomers born in the year 1957. That was the last year that the Chinese Zodiac saw the year of the Fire Rooster, which comes around every six decades; the celebrities turning 60 this year include Donny Osmond, British actor Stephen Fry, and Swedish actor, martial artist, screenwriter and producer Dolph Lundgren.

It’s also mandatory to start the New Year eating General Tso’s Chicken. (OK, I made that part up) and acknowledging the distinctive characteristics of the Fire Rooster (according to one source, “trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work”).

Johnson County has a wide range of Asian restaurants to choose from for celebrating Chinese New Year, including the venerable Dragon Inn, opened by the Tsui family in downtown Overland Park over 42 years ago. It’s still family owned and still evokes the style of a pre-1960s Chinese restaurant, with lots of gilded dragons and old school dishes like Peking Duck and lemon chicken.

Another family-owned Chinese restaurant with a long history in the Kansas suburbs is the 32-year-old Fire Wok in Mission, which also offers a classic old school menu and has the distinction of being the only Chinese venue in the metro that is closed on Saturday and Sundays (the owner told me, years ago, that this was the time set aside for the family to spend together).

Fire Wok serves, among other American-Chinese dishes, the regional favorite Springfield Cashew Chicken (people either love or hate this deep-fried chicken dish smothered in a glossy brown sauce; put me in the latter category).

A more recent addition to the Chinese-American culinary scene is the 18-year-old New China Town in Mission, where customers still order at the counter, looking up at an illuminated menu – mostly old school American-Chinese, but with a smattering of Thai favorites, including a few very good curry options.

The interior décor of New China Town is utterly charmless, but the food is good and certainly inexpensive, which means it does a boom business in carry-out (and serves until 10 p.m., which is also a plus).

The ABC Café – with its superb dim sum selections – in Overland Park used to stay open later than that. It now closes at 10:30 p.m.

But the possibilities are almost endless for choosing a dining option for tomorrow night. And you needn’t be a Rooster (or a Pig, a Goat or a Monkey) to enjoy the start of the Lunar holiday. Just get out your chopsticks and go!

Fire Wok in Mission.