Hunan Delight

18118 Village Mart Dr.



Hours: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $7 to $8.

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Hunan Delight doesn't offer any outstanding delights. There's nothing unusual here, and in fact some of the sauces are over-cornstarched and dully flavored. But this place has enough strong points -- and good dishes -- to consider it if you're in the neighborhood. It's strictly an old-fashioned, clattery-bright Chinese restaurant, complete with red vinyl booths and hanging tasseled lanterns. The prices are old-fashioned too, low for most items and rock-bottom for a few -- generous shrimp dishes at $7.95, for example, and half a Peking duck at $6.25.

An appetizer highlight is the spicy tangy wonton, served in a bowl of pungent sauce with chili peppers, ginger and minced garlic -- a real mouth-tingler. The steamed dumplings are excellent too, with tender, satiny wrappers and good, zippy fillings of ground pork, ginger and garlic. A third winner is the shrimp toast, with plenty of shrimp flavor, a minimum of bread and lots of sesame seeds. But sidestep the spring rolls, with their mushy, flat-tasting filling.

When it comes to entrees, you won't go wrong with that $6.25 Peking duck (note that it's available only Monday through Thursday). The bird is carefully trimmed of excess fat, the meat is moist and tender, the skin nicely crackly. Another very good non-sauced dish is crisp chicken, steamed then fried so the flesh is unusually succulent and the skin, infused with what tastes like five-spice powder, is beautifully crisp.

Beyond their very reasonable prices, the shrimp and scallops have been very good here -- big, plump, fresh-tasting. But you have to be careful about the sauces. Mandarin shrimp, for example, is engulfed in an icky-sweet tomato concoction that tastes like a barbecue sauce gone astray. On the other side of the coin, Hunan Delight does a wonderful yu-shiang sauce, nicely laced with garlic and ginger, that has a beautiful balance between hot, sweet and tart flavors.

"Lovers delight," a house specialty, has decent beef chunks (but don't look for sirloin) and more of that good shrimp. But it's weighed down by too much of a thick brown sauce, flat-tasting and undistinguished. The same problem afflicts the crispy pan-fried noodles, generous with shrimp, scallops and chicken and with noodles that are nicely browned on one side and soft on the other. But there's so much flat-tasting brown sauce that it soaks through the noodles and turns the dish soupy.

Hunan black pepper steak, another house specialty, is pleasant but forgettable, with marinated beef chunks (again, don't expect a top cut) and a pleasant sauce with slices of green pepper, onion and carrot.

There's also a separate list of low-fat dishes, cooked, according to the menu, with less oil and salt and without MSG (monosodium glutamate).

The low-fat dish we tried -- broccoli and mushrooms -- was very good with more zip than some of the regular items. The kitchen apparently took care to compensate with garlic and ginger for the smaller amount of salt.