Somebody call the Nuclear Regulatory Commission!-- John.

5668 N. Mesa Street
El Paso, TX  79912
Szechuan Chinese cuisine
I Ate:  the dinner special
Price:  ~$9 + tax/tip

(Four stars at its best; three-and-a-half at its worst)

There are two Uncle Bao's restaurants in El Paso; I went to the one on N. Mesa, a few blocks West of Sunland Park Dr.  It is an Americanized chinese restaurant.


Uncle Bao's felt like a nice place when I walked in.  The atmosphere was friendly, as were the staff.  The place wasn't very crowded.  I suppose I should've taken that as a sign.

I ordered the dinner special, a choice of two dishes, rice, soup, and a glass of the house wine.  I passed up the spicy shrimp and ordered General Tsou's chicken and pepper steak.  I also ordered fried rice and hot & sour soup, and chablis.

The soup arrived first; it was pretty good, with chunks of mushroom and tofu, though not as spicy as I usually get.  I mixed in some noodles and spooned it up, but wasn't able to finish before the main course arrived.  I was given a LOT of fried rice, and generous portions of chicken and beef.


It was at this point I realized the menu had been Americanized.  I prefer Chinese food served more traditionally, sized to eat with chopsticks.  The chicken came in pieces too large to be managed except with a fork.  The food was on the bland side (or so I thought).  The wine was balanced, but unremarkable.

The pepper steak was a bit spicy, as I expected, but in itself didn't have a lot of taste.  It DID have some chunks of tomato mixed in, which added a welcome burst of flavor; still, it could've been much better.  I was rather surprised with the General Tsou's chicken; it was fresh and crunchy, not bad, but it is traditionally a spicy dish, and the chicken wasn't hot at all.  The menu listing for General Tsou's, a la carte, labeled it spicy, yet I felt no tingle.

None, until I found THE PEPPER.

If you've been to a lot of chinese restaurants, you're probably familiar with THE PEPPER.  Little chunks, tossed into the mix as an attempt to flavor the food, but instead lying hidden and ready to pounce.  You're clueless until you find your eyes tearing, your face turning beet red, smoke pouring out of your ears and sweat running down your cheeks.  A jarring experience.  It took me a minute to settle down from the fit of coughing and hiccups, and if I didn't have a cast iron stomach, the result could've been disastrous.

Well, I chewed on a few extra noodles, and sipped the wine, and finally recovered my composure.  I finished the meal, finding and avoiding a second thermonuclear Chinese pepper.  I received the check with the obligatory fortune cookie, paid, and left.

If you've been following my reviews, you know that it's rather difficult to miss receiving a five-star base rating.  Uncle Bao's lost it, not because of their American-style modifications (which some people prefer) but rather the inability to follow the theme through the meal.  You don't want to take grandmaw to a fancy place, feed her well, and watch her lose it all over the floor thanks to an errant hot pepper.

Still, the restaurant has a few redeeming qualities.  The atmosphere is nice, the portions are generous and the price isn't bad.  If you don't mind picking through your meal for the occasional land mine, you can get a decent meal at Uncle Bao's.


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