April 10, 2013

Eat and Run: Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant, Scarborough

Find your happy place: We know just where to start

From staff reports

There’s something comforting about the size of a Chinese restaurant’s menu.

click image to enlarge

The Hunan chicken at Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant in Scarborough.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

HAPPY GARDEN CHINESE RESTAURANT

WHERE: 174 U.S. Route 1,Scarborough; 885-0121

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Egg roll, $2; small egg drop soup, $2.95

WAIT: Five minutes

PARKING: Yes

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Yes

RATING: *** 1/2

I get overwhelmed by some large menus, but there’s something about a sprawling Chinese menu I find relaxing. You know, the kind that folds out and has column after column of dishes and combination plates divided into all the basic food groups: beef, roast pork, jumbo shrimp, and sweet and sour, to name a few.

When I look at a menu like that I figure it doesn’t really matter what I’m in the mood for, I’ll find something I like.

Just such a menu exists at Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant, an unassuming little takeout spot in Scarborough on Route 1. There are a few tables, so I sat down at one and happily unfolded the four-column paper menu while classical music played on a nearby radio.

It was lunchtime, so I began scanning the 36 “lunch combination” specials, which ranged in price from $6.95 to $7.95. There were also 36 dinner combos starting at about $9.50 and a couple dozen “House Specialties” for about $10 and up.

In addition, the menu includes appetizers, soup, noodle dishes, moo shu, chicken, pork and beef dishes, about a dozen jumbo shrimp dishes, and three kinds of egg foo young.

Plus – and I’ve never seen this at a fast-food Chinese place – there’s a “health food” section including about a dozen steamed vegetable dishes with rice. The vegetable dishes include sauteed snow pea pods in “chef’s” sauce, sauteed string beans in Szechuan sauce, and broccoli with garlic sauce ($7.50 each).

But I digress.

Scanning the lunch combinations, I saw some of my faves, such as chicken with cashews, General Tso chicken, moo goo gai pan and orange chicken. Lunch combinations come with a choice of one appetizer – egg roll, spring rolls, chicken fingers, crab Rangoon, chicken teriyaki or boneless barbecue pork. Most come with pork fried rice.

There were lots of fanciful-sounding lunch dishes too, such as “Buddha’s Delight,” “Triple Delight in Garlic Sauce” and “Triple Delicacy.”

I decided to try the Triple Delight in Garlic Sauce ($7.25) – shredded chicken, beef and pork with vegetables in garlic sauce. The meat was very tender and the garlic sauce had a nice kick to it, but there were a few too many bean sprouts in it for my liking.

The pork fried rice was great, and the egg roll was nice and crispy on the outside, warm and flavorful inside. So even though I didn’t eat all my bean sprouts, my lunch was satisfying and filling.

Next time, I might avoid bean sprouts by going right for one of the lunch combinations that are basically just appetizer plates. There are several lunch specials that include four or more kinds of appetizers with pork fried rice for $7.25 to $7.75. You can get beef teriyaki, chicken fingers, crab Rangoon and barbecue pork, for example, or maybe beef teriyaki, chicken wing, an egg roll, crab Rangoon, chicken fingers and barbecue pork.

If you’re into convenience (and who isn’t?), Happy Garden delivers seven days a week to parts of Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach and Saco. The menu boasts that the place is open “all holidays,” including Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.

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