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Good food at cheap prices! 

Asian cuisine and confectionary shop shine in SLO's Chinatown

SLO’s favorite Asian noodle eatery, Mee Heng Low Noodle House has finally reopened after nearly a month of forced closure due to underground plumbing problems. Located in what was once considered the Chinatown section of SLO on Palm Street in the early 1920s, owner and chef Paul Kwong noted that this small Asian restaurant is one of the oldest in SLO that has been continuously operated since 1926. In fact, it’s still owned by the Gin family who has rented the space to Kwong since July 2009. And this inspired chef has turned this funky old eatery into the most charming fast food joint in town.

click to enlarge UNEARTHLY DELIGHT :  Sweet Earth Chocolates opened a new outlet for its mouth-watering confections. - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • UNEARTHLY DELIGHT : Sweet Earth Chocolates opened a new outlet for its mouth-watering confections.

Mee Heng Low provides an excellent take-out service. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get your order, except when it’s crowded. But the difference between this small Asian style eatery and most fast food restaurants is the fact that the food wasn’t previously made and frozen before it was reheated and served to you. Not only that, the menu and daily specials are all created by Kwong, a classically trained chef who has been providing good eats in SLO since 1986 when he opened the Rhythm Café on Broad Street. Over the years he has been a local favorite for catering, and attends many annual festivals like the annual Cal Poly Wine Festival.

 “Our soups are all made with our house-made broth. Sometimes they taste a little different, maybe there’s a little more garlic,” explained Kwong. “I like to say cooking is a little like a Calypso song: they’re playing the same song every time but it changes a little bit.” If you want more spice in your stir-fry, Kwong will ask you: IDo you want one Serrano or two?D That ’s another advantage of getting a fast meal here; you really do get it done your way. The small menu is divided into four categories: chop suey, chow mein, low mein, and soup bowl. Each is listed by type of noodle, with choice of sauce, fresh vegetables, and you choose whether you want tofu, red pork, shrimp, or the other usual proteins. Prices are listed according to the meat, poultry, veggie, or seafood, ranging from $8 to $12. And you get a very generous bowl of good, fresh food.

Mee Heng Low usually features daily specials which may include appetizers or desserts. But you won’t find rice here, unless Kwong decides to make rice pudding—“That’s the only way you get served rice here,” he laughed. Kwong is planning to add a happy hour soon featuring wine or beer with appetizers. You can also enjoy live jazz on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Even though he hasn’t started happy hour yet, his prices are reasonable for beer and wine with several wines by the bottle $25 or less.

 “You can come here, get a basic noodle bowl with iced tea or a soda, and go to the Palm Theatre next door, buy a ticket and a popcorn, all for under $20,”’ Kwong added.  Or, you could order a noodle bowl and take it to the Palm, they’ll let you eat it there.O My favorite quote from this charismatic chef came at the end of our conversation: “When you’re done eating, grab a fortune cookie, and if you don’t like your fortune, try another cookie,” he grinned. Mee Heng Low Noodle House is at 815 Palm St. in SLO, or you can order food to go by calling 594-1500, open daily.

My fellow chocoholics might want to get dessert right around the corner from Mee Heng Low, at Sweet Earth Chocolates on Chorro, near Palm Street. It rents space inside the Trio Boutique store for women. The new shop only offers pre-packaged treats, unlike the factory, but the choices are wide and varied. My mouth watered over chocolates flavored with Chai tea, peppermint, and the yummy peanut butter cups in dark chocolate, also available in milk chocolate. Prices vary: in a sale basket I found the Chai chocolate patties for 25 cents each, but paid $2.50 each for the dark chocolate peanut butter cups, much larger than the patties. I also loved the idea of the wine pairing chocolate packages: one package contains individually wrapped chocolates labeled “increasing intensity,” with 65, 72, and 84 percent chocolate; the other was named the “inquisitive palate,” which had cardamom, orange, and lavender flavored chocolates. 

A longtime SLO favorite, the original Sweet Earth Chocolates location opened on the second floor of the Splash Café. In 2004, it moved to its own storefront just a few doors down, at 1445 Monterey Street, near Johnson Avenue. There, you can make up your own mixed box of fine chocolates—like they do at the chain confectionaries, or buy a piece or two at a time of great truffles like Pinot Noir crème, orange creamsicle, or cardamom ginger vegan. Again, this is no formula recipe for sweets like you’ll find at chains. These exceptional, award-winning candies are locally produced, handcrafted chocolates made from organic, fair-trade chocolate.

According to Eve Neuhaus, who owns Sweet Earth Chocolates with her husband Tom Neuhaus, a Cal Poly professor, and his sister Joanne Currie, opening in this convenient spot downtown was serendipitous: “Christy from Trio was planning to add a chocolate shop then realized we might want to open there. It seemed such a good idea and it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”

I once enjoyed a visit to the factory and the aromas were irresistible. You can also get made to order treats like hot chocolate and milkshakes. But the new candy shop is a convenient one-and-a-half blocks off Higuera where you can buy a treat to satisfy your chocolate craving, far superior to any mass produced chocolates, before heading back to work. The new Sweet Earth Chocolate shop is at 950 Chorro St., near Palm, and it’s open daily.  Visit them online at http://sweetearthchocolateshop.com, or call 782-9868.

Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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