Honestly, how many longtime mom-and-pop restaurants offer a diner the chance to participate in a full-on redemption — by helping a restaurant’s owner recover from a recent criminal attack, while you also happen to dine on some genuinely delicious and affordable Asian fare?
That riddle’s answer is Le’s Wok Asian Food, whose adjoining 7 a.m. Market convenience store has been a 20-year fixture on a stretch of Rosedale Street in Fort Worth’s uber-trendy Near Southside.
In May, Le’s Wok husband-and-wife co-owners, Le and Nina Nguyen, were assaulted (with head chef Le requiring $10,000 worth of medical treatment) in a robbery that traumatized the couple, yet re-energized their many longtime neighborhood patrons to flock to Le’s Wok for its made-to-order Asian dishes.
With its endearingly spartan, yet spotless, decor of plastic-covered tables (allowing for 32 seated diners), each garnished with a convincingly faux orchid collection, the 10-month-old restaurant has invested all its resources into its food — with extremely satisfying results.
Choice abounds at Le’s Wok as its menu features around 70 dishes, from such Asian hits as egg and spring rolls, and lo and chow meins, to more elaborate Vietnamese-leaning fare, such as four pho beef noodle soups.
The first hint of the culinary adroitness of Le Nguyen, and his co-chef, Nhan Hua, is my appetizer of a rice-paper-enrobed spring roll ($1.35), encasing a crunchy assortment of carrots and bean sprouts, as well as shards of pink crab and shrimp. With an accompanying dipping sauce melding hot sriracha-fueled and sweet hoisin ingredients, the spring roll becomes a delicious memory in seconds.
Le’s wings ($5.95 for six) are more subtly rendered than your average sports-bar variety. Faultlessly crisp, the wings’ house-sauced exterior never singes the tongue with unnecessary heat.
Pad Thai chicken ($7.95) comes in a perfect-for-two generous portion (most dishes do), and is a thick tangle of noodles, laced with tender chicken pieces, crunchy scallions, all bathed in a lusty brown sauce. Meanwhile, the cashew shrimp ($8.95) features notably succulent seafood swimming in a tasty brown-sauce sea of mini-corn cobs, and a mixed saute of mushrooms, carrots, and celery.
The same plump mushrooms adorn the beef with mushrooms, ($7.95) where the beef easily delivers on luscious tenderness. And for those seeking vegetarian options, Le’s tofu with mixed vegetables ($6.95) does an uncanny textural imitation of sweet-and-sour pork, where the tofu chunks are deep-fried delightfully crispy on the outside, yet give way to a pillowy soft interior.
But Le’s must-devour dish is the bird-bath-big bowl of pho, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup ($6.95). The broth alone is stunning Asian comfort food. But it is merely the liquid backdrop for a stellar mix of rice noodles, shards of cilantro and basil, crunchy bean sprouts, fiery slices of jalapeño, all brightened by a spritz of lime. My soup came with thin strips of round steak that sprang to life once they were dipped in my personally concocted mix of hoisin and sriracha sauces.
Le’s Wok doesn’t serve dessert. But don’t fret. You can pick up an old-fashioned ice cream sandwich from the convenience store’s dairy case. Or, as corny as it sounds, you can bask in the sweet feeling of knowing that your Le’s meal was not only tasty and super affordable, but that your dollars spent will help this beloved neighborhood eatery make a full comeback from its recent brush with misfortune.