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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Chips & Dairy is as good as old-school Chinese food gets

Sweet & sour chicken balls, chow mein, garlic spare ribs; so bad it's good

Call me rebellious, but I couldn’t resist starting off 2011 with the kind of fast food for which New Year’s resolutions were invented. Sure, we want to eat healthier foods — never mind the fact that our culture conspires against us to ensure we subsist on a steady diet of salt, sugar, and fat. This is no place for moralizing, but I will say, if you’re going to eat so-called bad food (and here we speak of the obviously and deliciously deep-fried, sweet-and-salty sauce-laden variety) it might as well be really good. And that’s one reason I have such a soft spot for Chips & Dairy: it’s bad in the best possible way. And let’s face it: even the name makes you feel good.

The Place: Chips & Dairy has a split personality beyond what its name reveals. On one hand, it’s what Quebecers would call a casse-croute, an old-fashioned soft-serve and poutine snack shack. On the other hand, it’s a classic old-school Chinese food take-out counter. Judging by an informal poll (there was poutine on almost every table last time I visited), I’d say they probably sell slightly more orders of fresh-cut fries than Almond Chicken Guy Ding. But I, for one, have only indulged in the Asian side of the menu (summertime soft-serve ice cream notwithstanding). The small indoor seating area is 50s-style diner meets McCafeteria; it’s bright and clean and great for kiddies.

The Dish: Everything you’d expect on an old-school Chinese menu; all prepared quickly and fresh to order. Food is served piping hot in take-out containers (regardless of whether it’s actually for take out). The crisp and meaty egg rolls benefit from a hit of Chinese 5-spice and rival the more famous Golden Palace rolls. Fried rice has that tell-tale smoky flavour of the wok that makes it difficult to recreate at home. Wisely, everything is packaged up separately so the food doesn’t get prematurely soggy: a separate package of fried noodles gives crunch to the bean sprout-lovers delight —chow mein. The chicken balls — think savoury Timbits (in a good way) — are neither greasy nor doughy and can be enjoyed with or without its iridescent red sweet and sour sauce. Like the real little doughnuts, it’s best not to count how many you’ve eaten. Ditto for the sweet, sticky, gooey confection that calls itself garlic spare ribs.

The Cost: Combo plates from $8.95. No single item tops $10 (General Tao’s Chicken is $9.75)

Chips & Dairy, 2920 Bank St., 613-739-9889.

Open Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight.

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  • Dee

    My fave is Oriental House Restaurant (266 Elgin) because it’s 100% MSG-free = no headaches! AND it’s delicious.