Review: Lucy's is the place for Chinese food in Fargo
Forum food critic Eric Daeuber recently went to the Chinese restaurant in south Fargo that is offering up familiar favorites and unique dishes all year, including at Christmastime.
FARGO — For more than 100 years, Jews have been getting together in Chinese restaurants on Christmas to, well, eat Chinese food. And then, maybe, they’d go to a movie.
The tradition goes back to turn-of-the-last-century New York when most ethnic groups kept pretty much to themselves. Italians ate at Italian restaurants, Germans ate at what passed for beer gardens and Gasthäuser, and Jews, who weren’t welcome in either, or in a great many other places, too, shopped at delis and ate at home.
The only people who didn’t harbor antisemitic feelings, either deep down or right on their sleeves, were other Jews and the Chinese, whose Chinatown was right next door to the predominantly Jewish Lower East Side. As a bonus, they hardly ever mixed their meat with dairy products, among the worst violations of Jewish dietary laws. Most other meats that don’t quite meet Kashrut standards were hardly noticeable in the exotic dishes served up in Chinese diners.
And many modern Jews of the day saw Chinese restaurants as a safe first step into a more cosmopolitan America than the one in which they, and their new Chinese friends, were simply not welcome.
So a trip to Lucy's North China Cuisine during these days of mistletoe and holly is a good deal more seasonable than it might first seem. It has been my favorite place for Chinese food in Fargo since its days on 32nd Street where the Mandarin Kitchen Express is today.
The restaurant in south Fargo is much (much) larger and perhaps a little impersonal. And the staff has been hit by the shortage of service workers so service can be a bit uneven.
But the food is as good as it has always been, and at any time of the year, and it’s one of the few sit-down-and-eat-off-a-real-plate Chinese places in town that isn’t a buffet. Historically, Chinese food in America springs from southern China and the colder north produces a different kind of dish, so an open mind is important.
Starting with steamed pork and chive dumplings ($7.50), what might be the single most important dish in northern Chinese cuisine, and taking on a plate of sweet-and-sour pork ($13), admittedly way off the list of anything that might come close to a theme than resembles a Jewish Christmas tradition, is still a good introduction to northern-style Chinese cuisine.
Northern-style sweet-and-sour pork is lighter in color but crispier. The pork is thinly sliced and breaded rather than chunks battered and deep-fried.
The beef with garlic sauce ($8.75) is a more recognizable dish, again, spicy with substantial portions of fresh vegetables. The very complex and light flavors of the south are missing in northern-style cuisine, which favors heavier flavors and dishes. The exception may be the fried rice, which is light on soy and heated in a wok rather than fried as one finds in American-style fried rice, giving it a much lighter color and texture. An order of kimchi ($3) on the side is a must.
The menu is enormous, as are the portions and the dining space. And while the Jewish population of Fargo isn’t like that of many other urban centers in America, and you might not see them flooding Chinese restaurants in town, it’s an interesting tradition that makes you wonder how cuisine and cultures mix.
There is a bloc in America today that seems to believe that removing what’s not familiar is the best way to keep the peace. The peculiar tradition of Jews dining in Chinese restaurants at Christmas suggests that, perhaps, adding the unfamiliar rather taking it away might be a better solution.
These culinary coalitions, and Fargo is a stage set for a good many more, are interesting metaphors for how reaching into something new bears better fruit than pulling away.
Lucy’s might be open on Christmas, but call ahead to be sure.
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.
Lucy’s North China Cuisine
Where: 4323 45th St. S., Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations accepted: no
Ratings (out of 4)
Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambiance: 2.5 stars