Last week we connected. It was not the first time we had been to Chino Lee's but we had made a couple trips there in the recent past and didn't find it open. It seems the owner, Andy, took his spring break early this year so he could be geared-up and opened-up for the holidays. Why not? Foods that are predominately vegetable are part of the tradition for that week and he was featuring camarrones as his primary meat for this time to fit the holiday tradition.
Having met Andy on a previous visit we exchanged salutations and I excused myself to wander about and take a photo or two while him and Tere went over the menu.
Everything was sparkling clean and shiny. Chino Lee's is not an upscale restaurant by any means but his food is of top quality. Neither is his menu extensive, it has 9 dishes with choice of meat for many of them, and with photos to give an idea what these very foreign and exotic plates will look like, a guide designed more for the local clientele than for many of us expats who already have an idea what to expect though I myself needed the pictures too. My dish was a Kung Pao but was far different from what I knew of, and camarrones in it too was new for me. Tere decided on a dish that I cannot recall the name of except that "Coco" was in the title so only could guess that coconut milk was used in the preparation along with shredded coconut in the entree. Tere had me taste a bit to show me there was a peanut sauce used as well. She really liked it. Hers came with a fried rice that was included in another bowl aside.
Andy tells me he really is just doing this as a hobby or a pasttime, it is not really for a profit-making venture that he opened the restaurant, moree to the point, he opened it by popular demand when some of his neighbors and extended family sampled his cooking. They all encouraged him to open his own place and Andy does like to cook so he was easily persuaded to give it a try.
Chino Lee's experimented with different hours of operation. The original opening time was after 2pm because he felt the early evening hours were more what was needed in that location. But soon more and more asked him why he did not open earlier. In response Chino Lee's opens by 12:30 Tuesday through Sunday. Andy buys everything fresh for that day and when the food runs out he closes shop for the day. He claims it is rare to not be closed by 4:30 now.
His dining room is not large, and his counter in front is a popular space for much of his clientele. Andy claims he had to scale-down the appearance from how it appeared when he first opened as potential customers were bypassing him because they thought he looked too upscale and expensive just by appearances. So he adjusted his image to fit in a bit better in this working-class colonia, also making his menu a bit better fit as well by simplifying it somewhat.
Chino Lee's is located on Torreón Nuevo directly in front of the Bodega Aurrera. You can find him open after 12 noon tuesday through Sunday but you had better be there soon after because by 4pm he may be closing his doors for the day after selling-out of some of the freshest food to be found.
"There is no route out of the maze. The maze shifts as you move through it because it is alive. "
— Philip K. Dick (VALIS)