REVIEW: Jia’s Wok – Reno’s Local Answer to Panda Express

Beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup at Jia’s Wok. Image: Kyle Young

Jia’s Wok is a Chinese fast food restaurant that lives on East Plumb Lane in a strip mall between Wrondel Way and Kirman Avenue. Many people’s go-to Chinese fast food chain is about a block away. If you can choose between food of similar quality at a chain or a local spot, why not go local with Jia’s Wok?

Ruminations on Chinese Fast Food

In my experience, Chinese fast food across the United States is pretty universally loved. As soon as Chinese restaurants, whether local or chain, came to a tacit agreement with patrons to serve low- to mid-quality food at especially affordable prices, a beautiful thing was born.

The primary distinguishing factor, at least for me, between Chinese fast food and elevated forms of Chinese food is whether or not the dishes are prepared in advance or made-to-order. Though not in all cases (I can readily think of exceptions), I tend to think food quality dips a bit when it’s prepared in advance and then stored under heat lamps.

The other markers for quintessential Chinese fast food are a heavy reliance on meat wrapped in starch, somewhat viscous sugary sauces, weakly flavored fried rice, and greasy chow mein that usually requires a salty soy sauce.

When I can afford it, I prefer mid-grade Chinese food over strictly fast food. Seldom will I go for restaurants that purport to serve high-cuisine Chinese food, but I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed myself at those restaurants. When my finances are less than desirable or I just need a giant plate of food for $7, Chinese fast food often hits the spot.

Jia’s Wok Delivers Local Dishes That Rival Panda

Stained glass mural.
Stained glass? I’m not sure, but I like it. Image: Kyle Young.

I will be the first to admit that Panda Express is not the worst chain restaurant in Reno, but I am a little dumbfounded by how popular it is. There is something desirable about walking into one of its locations and being reasonably confident that the General’s Chicken there will be similar to the General’s Chicken at locations 2, 3, 4, and 5. That being said, Panda never has been and probably never will be my cup of tea. Maybe it’s their proclamation that they serve gourmet Chinese food that irks me.

Jia’s Wok, on the other hand, has a large neon sign that describes exactly what they do: Chinese fast food. Upon entering the ten-or-so table restaurant, I was struck by the disparate elements that created a somewhat elegant aesthetic and a somewhat divvy aesthetic. A pretty cool stained glass mural, or simulated stained glass, rests above the center of the restaurant. Glass with frosted koi fish and flowers partitions the dining room. The tables were clean and the walls glossy. A walk-up fridge contains various refreshments.

The majority of the food sits under hot-lamps, cafeteria-style, behind the serving counter and register. The backlit menu behind the serving counter is a bright azure blue. The menu includes several combo specials, and some made-to-order dishes. I’d characterize most of the dishes and meals as inexpensive at $6 to $10, but cost and value are relative to the diner.

I ordered beef noodle soup for $8.99 and my fiancé ordered the Combo 1, which includes two entrée servings and rice and noodles, for $6.99. My fiancé selected the spicy chicken (their name) and the orange chicken along with chow mein and fried rice.

Combo 1 at Jia's Wok
Spicy chicken, orange chicken, chow mein, and fried rice. Image: Kyle Young

I thought her orange chicken hit the right fast food notes I sought. It didn’t have any crunch, but that’s not surprising since it likely sat around in a tray for a while. It had a sour flavor that I enjoyed, but it was mostly sweet and starchy. The spicy chicken had a nice amount of heat and was served with bell peppers, onions, and jalapeños. The vegetables were mushy, but again, not surprising or really even off-putting. My fiancé quite enjoyed the greasy noodles, but they had some indiscernible flavor that I did not like. The rice had pieces of ham in it alongside some extra-orange pieces of egg. The rice will certainly fill your belly, but don’t expect a ton of flavor.

My beef noodle soup, a dish I’m fond of, included cubed pieces of braised beef, pickled radish, udon noodles, cilantro, green onion, and chili flakes. I’ve never seen the dish served with a hearty amount of chili flakes, and I really enjoyed the extra heat. The broth was beefy, herbaceous, and salty with notes of pickling spice not entirely different from corned beef. The noodles were especially overcooked. The cilantro and onions added a great crunch. My first bite of beef was tender and pretty tasty. The next bites of beef were more akin to an overcooked pot roast.

After several bites of unadulterated soup, I decided to explore the condiments. Sitting on the table were what appeared to be house-made chili oil and a house-made version of sambal oelek (chili garlic sauce). The chili garlic sauce was stored in Sriracha bottles with the spouts cut off, allowing for the larger chili flakes to easily be dispensed. The chili garlic sauce was sour with a nice heat. The addition of both sauces to my soup made it much tastier.

If you’re one of those red-blooded Americans whose brain explodes whenever you encounter someone who doesn’t speak fluent English, you may want to choose another restaurant. Anyone with dietary restrictions that must ask questions and get clear answers from a restaurant may also want to look elsewhere. If you dig moderately tasty Chinese fast food and don’t mind a little pointing, gesturing, and fragmented communication, Jia’s Wok is definitely worth a visit.

Jia’s Wok is located at 477 East Plumb Lane in Reno. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Give them a call at 775-827-1188.

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Kyle Young
About Kyle Young 50 Articles
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his fiancé.

2 Comments

  1. Nice to see they are still in business. I remember them from the old Park Lane Mall days, when they were located in the downstairs annex.

  2. Dude, you are so wrong. Panda is so much better, last time I went to Jia’s Wok it was greasy af. Not saying that’s bad but you can’t even compare the two. I’m all for supporting local businesses but to compare this place to Panda is just wrong.

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