Country of origin: The Netherlands
Locations worldwide: Over 50 in Bulgaria, Colombia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, US, UK
NYC locations: One, near Times Square
If there is any doubt that New Yorkers love lining up for food—cronut mania is still going strong two months out—there was a line out the door and winding around the corner of newly opened Wok to Walk even though I waited until 2 p.m. in hopes of beating the lunch rush.
It would be safe to assume that no one was there to satisfy an urge for fried rice that only a Dutch stir-fry on demand chain could provide. More likely, this was a case of chasing the new and a crowd fueling interest. (Despite reports of this being the United States' first branch, there was a location on University Place that lasted from 2008-2011.)
The concept is straightforward. You can choose from four noodles and two types of rice that come with default chopped cabbage, broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, and egg for $5.50. Extras come at a price, ranging from 50 cents for toppings like cilantro or peanuts to $2.50 for steak or shrimp. Lastly, you pick from eight sauces, some as simple as oyster sauce or teriyaki. Things can add up quickly, though two mix-ins will keep the total under $10.
Two woks could barely keep up with the stream of mostly patient customers (two dropped off in the 20-minute wait). Perhaps some of the appeal is that the food is fresher than at the steam table joints that fill the gap between Times Square and the Garment District.
Whole grain rice was my poor attempt at mitigating the effects of a big box of starch. It didn't quite succeed, plus brown rice isn't as absorbent as white, so the overall effect was soupy instead of seared. Shrimp and pineapple make a good pairing with the coconut curry Bangkok sauce ($9.30) that turned out spicier than expected. (One upside to the long line is that you can take your time strategizing flavor combinations.)
Egg noodles with pork, bok choy, and Hot Asia sauce ($9.30) taught three lessons: noodles are the more sensible and tastier choice, there is no reason to ladle wet sauces on stir-fried rice, and don't order pork expecting char siu or even sliced loin. Pork means chopped pieces of fatty bacon, which the cashier will warn you about beforehand.
In addition to soy sauce and now-standard Sriracha, there were also jars of chopped Thai chilies, a nice touch. Don't go too wild, though. Biased by the triple whammy of a chain restaurant, touristy location, and a preconceived notions about Dutch food being bland, I didn't trust that my food would actually be spicy. Don't make the same mistake.
Wok to Walk makes a respectable enough carton of noodles, but it's not a destination. After the lines abate it will stand in competition from neighboring international chain Go Go Curry and New Li Yuan, the dirt cheap Chinese restaurant that's perpetually in trouble with the Health Department and changing its name. Poor marks or not, its noodles are only $4.50.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and reformed librarian. Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.