Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
In a perfect world, we'd all have a high-end Chinese Brasserie right downstairs, and those lucky dogs who live in the Cityville apartments got a real taste of the sweet life when Howard Wang's Uptown moved in last May. An offshoot of its wildly popular parent restaurant, Howard Wang's China Grill, a Northwest Highway favorite since 2005, the Wangs' newest location is essentially everything that is good about Uptown — sophisticated tastes, clean design and exemplary service — without forgetting its roots or losing its traditional appeal.
These days, Howard's son Jowin has taken the reigns in Uptown, while dad is still active in ensuring customers are happy and that the newest location lives up to the family name. Dedicated to fresh ingredients and high-end flavors, Howard Wang's adds an eclectic flavor that Uptown denizens had found lacking in recent years. And, while the food is unquestionably solid, some of the restaurant's most pleasant surprises are in the little touches and small but generous perks available to guests, particularly during the weekday happy hour endearingly called, "Hang With Wang."
The bottom line, Howard Wang's sets the bar when it comes to sitting at the bar, offering a variety of traditional and contemporary noms for every palate.
How does this new location differ from the original, Howard Wang's China Grill on Northwest Highway?
It's completely different. Definitely has that Uptown feel to it. The other location is more family oriented, so the vibe is a little bit different. A little bit older crowd [at Northwest Highway] than the younger crowd here. The demographic is the main difference. For the most part the food and menu is going to be the same. Different scenery.
When did you know you were ready/able to expand?
That one's been there for seven years. I grew up in the business. We wanted to do something different and we were ready to expand, and a lot of our Uptown customers that came into the Northwest Highway location would highly recommend our expanding to West Village. They said, "We desperately need a Chinese place out there — you guys should open up a store, you'd make a killing."
We took their word and decided to do it and just pulled the trigger. A lot of our guests are happy that we're here, but I'd love for new ones to join us.
I hear you have a really cool deal with the Cityville residences?
We provide a room-service thing with free delivery and also 20% off your bill if you dine in. Whenever a resident moves in, we give them a little card just to show proof of residence. We do the little perks; it makes living here a little more fun.
I think I'd come in every day!
Not the case for everybody, but we do have a lot of regulars who are in multiple times per week.
I've caught you on a rare day off, but I imagine you're still here most days?
Pretty much here every day. I'm at the Northwest Highway location on Sundays because that's our busiest day there.
Eat here every day?
I eat here every day. I see it, eat and breathe this food all the time. I grew up eating it, of course, so it's always been around me since I was a kid.
What's your favorite dish?
That's tough, tough to narrow it down. There are so many types of dishes. I'd have to go with a traditional dish, General Tsao's Chicken. That's my go-to dish. That, or the Mongolian Beef. Those two dishes are my two favorites.
It's a family business. Who started it?
Parents started it. Howard's my father — he's been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. He still comes in periodically. He comes in a few times per week and pops in. It's always nice to get a feel for the place when guests are here. He has a few regulars who look for him.
They come in for Howard, do you have regulars?
I have a lot of regulars from here and the original location. I'll sometimes see people come into here from the Northwest Highway location to pay us a visit and check out the store. We have a pretty good following.
I'd say that's accurate — I first heard about the place not because I drove by, but because someone told me I needed to try it.
You heard about it word of mouth?
I was working in an office in Uptown at the time and it was a good choice for what we needed.
Somewhere cool to come to with a good atmosphere, good food. Bring clients. You get it all — the total package.
The menu contains a notable combination of traditional and contemporary dishes, what was the thought process in planning it?
We have a nice variety. We have a section called "Signature Items" — these are more of your created, I guess "American-influence" that cater to the American palate. There are a lot of cool and interesting dishes in that section, which are good for people looking for something a little different and more adventurous. Stuff that's a little higher-end, not your cheap Chinese food that people generally think of. We try to move them away from that idea.
And, then we have our "Traditional Favorites" where we have some dishes that are more traditional Chinese food like General Tsao's Chicken or Cashew Chicken, or your general fried rices, stuff like that. Our classic recipes that have been with since we opened our first restaurant back in 1982.
What's the wait like at 7:30 on a Saturday?
Oh, it's busy. Always busy on the weekends. We do reservations on Open Table. From Thursday to Sunday, it's obviously our highest volume and Mondays and Tuesdays, like many places, are a little lower key. We're still somewhat affected a bit by the economy, but for the most part, our food's pretty affordable. So that gives people a little comfort, I think, as opposed to like a high-end steakhouse or something costing hundreds of dollars.
Any plans to expand in the future?
Eventually, I want to open up another location out north somewhere, I'd say maybe around Frisco. We were actually going to open one up north before this one, but it didn't work out at the time so we decided we'd come over here.
You have an amazing patio. Is this a good happy hour spot?
We have a full bar. Our happy hour, Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 is called "Hang with Wang." [Laughs] It's cool. We have two sides of the patio, and the widow on [the south] side opens up. So you can order drinks from outside. People come and hang out — they typically like to drink a little more than they eat around here. We give out free dim sum if you eat at the bar. It's kind of our little reward for sitting up there.
Jowin Wang. [Photo: Brentney Hamilton/EDFW]