For literally decades, I’ve sung the praises of Little World Chinese Restaurant. There is even an old, faded review I wrote of the place posted near the front counter. The lack of ambiance never phased me, because the food at the humble little eatery always packed such a flavor-filled punch and nullified the dismal decor. I could even ignore the sometimes surly service, knowing that as soon as my food arrived, I’d be happy and content. So, what happened?
My last couple of trips to Little World have been a disappointment. I hate saying that because it’s like contemplating divorcing someone you once loved so dearly. Maybe my standards or my taste buds have simply changed over the years, but in my opinion, the food at Little World just doesn’t deliver the way it once did. I don’t know if it’s due to changes in the kitchen or something else, but the once vibrant, rich flavors I knew and loved seem to have been exchanged for a disappointing blandness.
Let’s start with potstickers since so many people do. The pork-filled Chinese dumplings (6/$5.99) that I remember as being juicy and tender in previous years were plump, but dried out, tough and chewy. It’s as if they’d been prepared earlier in the week and then heated up for service.
The egg drop soup ($2.25) – always one of my favorite Little World items – had almost very little pork in it and lacked the vibrant, zippy, vinegary flavor I recalled from past renditions. Bummer.
One thing about Little World: There is truly something for everybody. With nearly 300 menu items, maybe it’s no wonder that not all of them are award-winners. The kitchen seems to excel in the preparation of more exotic dishes such as squid with black bean sauce ($10.99) while screwing the pooch with what was supposed to be ma-po tofu.
I didn’t see ma-po tofu listed on the extensive menu. It’s a very traditional Chinese Szechuan dish of tofu and ground pork in a highly spiced, peppery sauce. So I asked if the restaurant served ma-po tofu and was told that they did. Well, when it arrived it looked unlike any ma-po tofu I’ve ever eaten. Shredded pork was tossed with shrimp and chunks of soft tofu, carrots (carrots???) and peas in a brown sauce that didn’t really resemble any ma-po tofu sauce I’d ever encountered. It’s not so much that it didn’t taste good; it’s that it didn’t taste like ma-po tofu and even lacked the sliced green onions that the dish is always garnished with.
Szechuan style chicken ($8.99) had a bit more kick than most of the other Little World dishes I tried and, had it not been so overcrowded with sliced celery and bamboo shoots, I would have liked it better. Maybe the lesson here is to avoid Szechuan dishes in a restaurant that advertises itself as “Mandarin & Cantonese.”
I could go on, but why beat a dead horse? I will say this: the food here is and always has been cheap and plentiful. You will not walk away hungry. But, sometimes you get what you pay for. Meals at Little World end with cellophane-wrapped Super-K fortune cookies, which may have been the best part of my recent visits there. Hopefully, just a glitch or two and not the end of a beautiful love affair. Stay tuned.
Culinary quote of the week:
When I’m at a Chinese restaurant having a hard time with chopsticks, I always hope that there’s a Chinese kid at an American restaurant somewhere who’s struggling mightily with a fork.
— Rick Budinich
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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