WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Another week has come and gone and here we are gathering around the table once again.
I’m currently caught up on one style of food. It happens, sometimes you just have that itch for something…oh wait that’s a mosquito bite.
In all seriousness, for weeks now I’ve wanted to devour everything with an Asian twist. I blame it on randomly watching The Search for General Tso on Hulu. If you haven’t seen it, do so, but be warned you will immediately want to dig into the history of Chinese food and by extension, Asian food in America…while also searching out everything from pho to well…General Tso’s Chicken.
The premise of the documentary is to illustrate the heartbreakingly rough history that Chinese immigrants have experienced in America, while also pointing out that many “Chinese” food favorites are highly-Americanized dishes. It may come as a surprise to some, but typical staples like Chop Suey, Chicken Teriyaki, Crab Rangoon, even Fortune Cookies are dishes completely foreign to the land they so frequently represent here.
So what is one to do if they yearn for authentic Chinese cuisine?
Yes, that’s a restaurant, and a very good one at that.
It’s odd for a place that’s celebrating 15 years in Wilmington to be a relative unknown for many, especially newcomers, but those who have tried it love it for a reason.
Even a former WECT reporter and fellow foodie said it is her favorite restaurant, high praise considering the options in town.
So with that recommendation and my insatiable appetite for Asian food, some neighbors and I tucked into the Wrightsville Avenue location and we were in for a treat…we’re still raving about the food and the experience.
The restaurant is inviting, with some traditional décor and popular floor seating options for larger parties.
But it’s what’s on the plate that is why we’re here…and owner May Chen does an excellent job of offering some classic Chinese dishes.
She says when she first opened the restaurant in 2006, many customers were hesitant to try dishes like Crispy Duck or Beef in Oyster Sauce. But she notes those are options you could easily find in China…and over time the palate of the Port City has changed.
While we didn’t order May’s favorite, Steamed Whole Fish, we did start with Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Salt & Pepper Calamari. Both items were flavorful, excellent and fresh…the latter something you don’t typically associate with a run-of-the-mill Chinese eatery.
Up next was Dry-Wok Chicken (a fan favorite at Double Happiness), essentially small pieces of stir-fried chicken, tossed with peppers and onions in a sweet and spicy sauce. I thought it was great.
My friends had different variations of the same dish, the Doubled Pan Fried Noodle, one with shrimp and one with tofu. Almost immediately upon trying their selections, I regretted my choice…not because it was bad, but because this was exquisite.
For one, the shrimp are jumbo, they’re huge…far larger than most shrimp you’ll find in any menu item along the coast. Secondly, the pan fried noodles are crispy, but melt in your mouth…it’s tossed with a delectable brown sauce, vegetables, and bigger, softer noodles.
It’s not only one of the best dishes I’ve had in town…it’s one of the finest I’ve feasted on in years.
We then had some desserts, which Chen says aren’t made in house but locally baked. A Southern Coconut Creme Cake and the Lychee Cheese Cake…though she says the Green Tea Creme Cake is her top choice.
I asked Chen why she decided to open an authentic Chinese restaurant, when the more typical Americanized-route has proven itself so popular? She said she has always been in the restaurant business, but when she first moved here she noticed a lack of traditional Chinese cuisine…and she thought about one day opening her own place, serving the food of her homeland and her culture.
I can honestly say I’m glad she followed through with her dream…you can even say I’m double happy.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Double Happiness has some select menu items that you’ve likely had plenty of times before, but give those taste buds some fireworks. Order the Shanghai Rice Cake, Sichuan Eggplant, or Shrimp with Ginger and Scallion. Not only is it authentic, it’s delicious, and you’ll immediately feel cultured after devouring it.
- Come hungry. The portions are plentiful, appetizers and entrees can easily be shared among two people…maybe more. Another plus, the food isn’t outrageously expensive. Unlike some restaurants that are just as costly as catching a flight to Beijing, Double Happiness is small on price and big on the amount of food. Maybe that’s why they call it Double Happiness! (To be sure, Double Happiness comes from a traditional Chinese decorative design).
- Please be patient with May and her staff. She is grateful for her loyal customers, but the pandemic has decimated her staff…and those that are at work, are often putting in double shifts to serve the community. They could use your help if you’re looking for a job!
IF YOU GO:
Double Happiness has two locations:
4403 Wrightsville Avenue
Wilmington, NC 28403
It’s at the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and Kerr Avenue.
And the other is at:
7122 Market Street, Suite 150
Wilmington, NC 28411
It’s in the Ogden Market Place.
NOTE: Double Happiness is a paid advertiser with WECT’s Cape Fear Business Break. This article was written independently by the author and is in no way connected to WECT’s Cape Fear Business Break.
Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best kept secret that you want the rest of the Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!
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