If you live in Charlottesville and you care about food at all, chances are you heard about Taste of China this week.
Thanks to this New Yorker story by Calvin Trillin, the hole-in-the-wall, hidden-in-a-strip-mall-on-29 Chinese restaurant is the hottest spot in Charlottesville.
I read about on Thursday while I was flying to West Palm Beach for a friend’s wedding. I finally got to dig into my New Yorker and settled into a story about an eccentric and talented Chinese chef named Peter Chang who only works in tiny Chinese restaurants around the Southeast. And who has a legion of followers who track him down every time he pulls up stakes and moves, without warning, to a new town.
The story tracked him from Fairfax to Atlanta to Knoxville, following his frustrated fans as they tried to keep up. The biggest clue, other than the unusually yummy menu at an otherwise unremarkable Chinese restaurant? A collection of cooking medals and photos that Chang takes with him whenever he leaves and hangs in the front of all his restaurants.
Then I read where he was now and I almost dropped my magazine: Charlottesville. In a strip mall just up 29 (Albemarle Plaza. For those of you planning to go, it’s just past the mall on your right.). I couldn’t believe my good luck.
When I got back to Charlottesville, everyone at Darden was talking about Taste of China. So last night my boyfriend and I drove up 29 for dinner – and found a handwritten “Closed” sign on the door.
It was 7:30 p.m. and the restaurant had already started running out of food. We still snuck in (don’t ask how) and were the last ones seated. I spotted the famous photos and medals hanging behind the cash register.
Taste of China was out of most of the signature dishes, but we had scallion puff pancakes, pork dumplings, garlic shrimp and crispy chicken in special sauce. All of it was delicious and much more nuanced than you’d expect from a typical Chinese restaurant.
I’m planning to go back to try the things I missed. And I’m getting there at 5 p.m.