WELCOME TO THE INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF YUM. POPULATION: APPETITE.
There’s something special about the Yummy House. As though it exists outside our own world. Just beyond our universe. Perhaps it’s from another dimension? Another plane of existence? Maybe it’s from the future. Or the recent past. Whatever reality the Yummy House exists in, it is certainly a delicious one. An authentic Chinese one, to be sure.
Located on Waters among countless unassuming strip malls, and itself sharing a strip mall with my favorite local boba spot, Got Tea?, the Yummy House is not a restaurant that would catch your eye. If anything, you may be annoyed that you noticed it at all, wasting countless milliseconds of “you” time. But looks can be deceiving my friend, and in this case they most certainly are, for the Yummy House is quite possibly the best Chinese restaurant in Tampa Bay.
The interior is much the same as the exterior – looks like crap. Well, kinda crappy. To one side of the restaurant, you will find whole ducks and other bird-like items roasting, which is kind of fun to look at. But otherwise it looks like crap. The owners are clearly not into interior decorators, and that is just fine with me, because the energy they don’t spend on making this place looks pretty, they are surely channeling into making the food be awesome.
I went with a group of nine total, and called ahead. Do this. Otherwise you’ll be forced to wait for a table, and look generally schmucky. Although I guess the tables clear pretty quickly, so you likely won’t be waiting too long. But the restaurant was packed on this particular Saturday night. We were sat at a fairly clean table in a fairly efficient manner, and the server was fairly pleasant. Our glasses were kept full, and our food was brought out as it was ready. The staff knows what they’re doing, and will answer your questions about the (unfortunately picture-less and description-less) menu, but the sense I get from this place is that the service is only there because it’s necessary to get the food on the tables. All that matters here is the food. And luckily, the food is exceptional.
The menu is huge. Here is a link to some low-quality pictures of the menu, though a lot of it is unreadable. But you will be able to see that it is eight pages long, and that’s not including the seasonal specials pasted to the front page. The menu has choices running the range from what you might expect of any Chinese restaurant (egg rolls, kung pao chicken, hunan beef, etc) to exotic dishes (cold jellyfish salad, sizzling frog with ginger scallions, Cantonese style chicken feet… etc), and a wealth of items that you just won’t find in other places (Chinese hot pots, several different varieties of noodles, Peking duck, twelve different types of soup including shark’s fin soup). The dishes are all over the place, with something to satisfy everyone, and enough variety to never be able to try it all. And everything I’ve had here is prepared immaculately.
The food is best ordered for the table, and shared among your party. The larger tables have lazy susans on them to facilitate this, and the portions are big enough that everyone in my group of nine was able to get a generous helping of each dish. We began with soups and an appetizer.
This was probably the best egg drop soup I’ve ever had. They take the classic egg drop soup (a solid base) and throw in a whole bunch of different vegetables, including mushrooms and baby corn. WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT? Mushrooms! Baby corn! Just taking a classic and making it that much better, adding their own touch to it. The vegetables played in well the the egg drop soup flavor, not detracting from the flavor, but not adding too much either. Rather, it mostly served as interesting additions to texture.
We also got the Hong Kong Wonton Soup, which was pretty good, although did not pack as much flavor as I’d have liked. The broth alone would not be enough without the wontons and the vegetables. The wontons were very nice, large enough to satisfy, but not so large that they could not be eaten in one bite by humorously rude customers such as myself.
One of my friends ordered the Salt and Pepper Fried Tofu, something I’d never had from the Yummy House before, or even heard of. Turns out that the Salt and Pepper Tofu was practically the best part of the meal. They took simply fried chunks of tofu and tossed them in red pepper flakes, salt, green and red onions, and cilantro. That’s it. But they were so good. Salty and spicy. Crisp on the outside, soft and warm in the center. Just amazing. I will order this every time I go from now on.
And then came the meals.
Sesame Chicken. Pretty standard stuff here. But the beauty is that even the most basic dish they serve, one that you might find anywhere else, is still well prepared, and tastes better than anywhere else will make it. Good, sweet, crispy Sesame Chicken.
The Mongolian Beef. The best ever? Quite possibly. Rich in spices, ridiculously flavorful slices of meat tossed together with scallions and onions, with every bite packing a spicy punch. This is the essential Chinese dish, so good we ordered it twice.
I believe this was called Pepper Chicken, but I don’t quite remember. I do remember it being very good though, the strong chicken dish on the table. With big chunks of green peppers, sliced zucchini, and delicious chicken tossed in a savory and slightly sweet sauce, this was one of the best items we had.
Fried rice with Chinese sausage. I had never heard of such a thing! The sausage, not the rice. The sausage was diced into small bits, and tasted of pork. It was sweet, and felt almost like a breakfast sausage. Very good, thrown in among lightly fried rice packed with egg and scallions. An order of any of their fried rice plates along with the meal is not essential, but adds a lot to it (they do bring out unlimited pots of steamed white rice with your order, which works well for a big group).
One member of our group was a vegetarian, and so he ordered the Spicy Eggplant. I was a dick and stole some. BWAHAHAHA. It was not spicy enough to be called Spicy Eggplant, but it was pretty good. It was large cuts of eggplant in a thick sauce, very soft and tender, with other assorted vegetables thrown in the mix.
The Singapore Style Rice Noodles were also very nice – extremely thin, light rice noodles, with a good blend of vegetables, egg, and featuring both pork and shrimp, all in a less heavy sauce than most of the dishes.
I chose the Beef Pan-Fried Noodles with Black Pepper, the same dish I always end up getting when I go to the Yummy House. It has carrots, mushrooms, and crazy bok choy (this proved a pain to eat), and beef, atop a bed of noodles. The sauce used is rather mild, making this dish probably the least interesting to taste of everything we had that night. It’s just enough to bring all the vegetables and meat together in flavor. And there really was no black pepper detectable at all (this time, though before I recall it being a more prominent part of the dish). So why get it? The noodles. The pan-fried noodles. They are fried to crispness, to the point that you have to break through them to get a serving off the plate. The noodles on top upon which the sauce and toppings sit become wet and tender, but those below remain crunchy, providing an incredibly unique textural combination, which keeps me getting it every time.
The Yummy House simply makes the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. Presentation be damned; it’s the best prepared food, served in huge portions, catering to groups of people willing to share their meals with each other, and it’s completely affordable. I don’t think any of us ended up spending over fifteen dollars, with the majority of us spending less than ten dollars each. Everyone left full, with some food left over.
Oh, and apparently it’s BYOB, so feel free to bring your own homemade moonshine or rubbing alcohol!