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DINING REVIEW: Overseas 101 hits the dining trifeca - good food, service and value
Restaurant Character: A small Chinese restaurant with very good food at a good value, fast service and a menu of standard Chinese-American favorites.
Rating total: 4 out of 5 stars
Food: 4 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 5166 N. Academy Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 4:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays
Entrees: $5.95-$6.96 lunch; $7.25-$11.50 dinner
Credit cards: yes
Vegetarian options: yes
What's online as of Feb. 6, 2013:
- 93 percent of 135 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4 out of 5 stars based on 14 reviews on Yelp
- Basic page on Facebook; search "Overseas 101"
- No violations requiring follow-up were marked after October, 2012 inspection by the El Paso County Health Department
Do you remember the first time you ever had Chinese food?
I do. I was 14 years old and traveling to Illinois with my stepbrother Calvin and his wife. We stopped for Chinese food and I ordered Moo Goo Gai Pan, probably because it contained chicken and sounded safe. My fortune read, "Your future will be built on firm foundations." Calvin said, "That sounds great." He paused. "But it could just mean you're going to have thick ankles."
Since that formative experience, I've eaten a lot of Chinese food. I've learned to look for the smaller mom-and-pop places which emphasize quality of ingredients over a menu the length of a phone book. To my surprise, I recently discovered a real gem in Overseas 101, a place I've been driving past for years. Tucked between Safeway and Target on the northwest corner of Union and Academy, it's easy to miss, but well worth the stop.
What makes this place such a find? Fast and friendly service coupled with really good food at reasonable prices. The lunch specials start at $5.95, and each entree comes with an egg roll, a cream cheese wonton and soup of your choice. Both the fried items are freshly prepared and come to the table sizzling hot and golden brown. The slender egg rolls are filled with slivered carrots, cabbage and bean sprouts, while the wonton filling is cream cheese with just a hint of onion and crab. The Hot and Sour Soup is lacking the "hot" note, the bamboo shoots are tiny slivers, and there are no mushrooms or pork to speak of. The Egg Drop Soup, on the other hand, is a comfort food triumph, combining hearty chicken broth with slippery ribbons of tender egg and small cubes of tofu.
During a lunch visit, we opted to try the Fried Squid ($5.95) from the appetizer menu. This dish wowed us, and we couldn't stop eating it. Squares of squid were fried in a tempura-like batter, cooked just long enough to leave it tender but chewy, with a great smoky flavor. The bed of sautéed, julienned carrots and onions that the squid arrived on was so good, we ended up eating that as well.
Not that our lunch was lacking at all. The Shrimp, Scallops and Chicken ($6.95) came loaded with fresh, al dente broccoli, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots in a light ginger sauce augmented with slivers of fresh ginger. The Triple Curry Sauce ($6.50) combined shrimp, beef and chicken in a mild, well-rounded curry sauce. The impeccably fresh vegetables really made this dish shine. Zucchini, carrots, snow peas and bias-cut celery all retained their vivid colors and crunchy texture.
Overseas 101 is equally impressive at dinner time. Each dinner dish also includes the egg roll, fried wonton and soup. The Sesame Tofu ($7.25) is very good, a pile of golden chunks of tofu that are crispy on the outside and creamy tender on the inside. It's coated with a sauce lightly flavored with ginger and red pepper flakes, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The stir-fried bright green broccoli and strips of red bell pepper on the side make a delicious and visually appealing accompaniment.
The Beef with Double Pan Fried Noodles ($8.75) is just plain fun to eat. The mass of noodles are fried to make a bed for the dish, so you get middle bites with tender chewy noodles from the middle and crispy, browned bits of noodles from the edges. The tender slices of beef in a savory sauce come with every vegetable I've already mentioned, plus baby corn and mushrooms. The platter is overflowing, and you'd need to have a tremendous appetite to finish it in one sitting.
The Szechuan Scallops and Shrimp ($9.95) are marked with a star on the menu, designating this as a spicy dish. Sadly, it is not. The garlic and ginger you'd expect in Szechuan food are there, but the chili flavor and peanuts are not. While the sauce was a disappointment, the preparation of the overall dish was great. The shrimp and scallops were tender but not overdone, and the vegetables were outstanding.
For a small restaurant, Overseas 101 is always bustling. Service at lunch is quick enough to put fast food restaurants to shame, but you won't feel rushed if you want to linger over tea after you finish. In the evenings, couples and families enjoy excellent service while a brisk business in take-out and delivery keeps the kitchen hopping.
I haven't tried the Moo Goo Gai Pan yet, but I will.