In a time when most Chinese restaurant menus resemble phone books, it sure is refreshing to see some focus. Te Wei Chinese Kabobs (5090 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-8388) specializes in the Chinese Muslim street food "chuanr," grilled and skewered kabobs. Most of the ingredients used — vegetables, seafood, meats, you name it — are seasoned with cumin, chili flakes, salt and sesame, and practically everything is covered in sesame seeds. Probably my favorite kabob at Te Wei is the "fish tofu." It's a rectangle of tofu brushed with a sweet sauce and cooked until it almost resembles a tofu doughnut with sweet, fishy undertones. Sounds weird, but trust me on this one.
What I thought was Chinese sausage on a stick is actually a regular American hot dog manipulated with a knife to look like a totem pole, and treated the same as the other meat kabobs. My dining companion, a hot-dog lover, proclaimed it "the most delicious hot dog ever." It was. Huge chicken wings, also covered in the same sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, remain juicy after their time on the grill. None of the kabobs costs more than $2. Some, like the quail eggs, chicken hearts and most of the vegetables, are only 50 cents. Add a bowl of soup and some dumplings and you have a relatively healthy and shockingly inexpensive meal that's big on flavor and interest.
Speaking of soup, the most expensive item on the menu is the large bowl of beef noodle soup at a whopping $6.50. Subtle notes of star anise allow the complexities of the broth to shine through. Chunks of tender beef plucked from the soup's tangle of thick white noodles and brilliantly green bok choy almost fall apart before reaching your mouth. The "special steamed pork buns" are eight fat xiaolongbao or Shanghai soup buns set atop a clean white dishcloth in a large bamboo steamer. The skin of this version is doughy and yeasty, yet still ethereal. The interior consists of juicy, freshly made pork dotted with green onion and a respectable amount of soup. They don't give you any sauce, but there's black vinegar, soy sauce and thick red chile paste on the table so freak it anyway you like.
Another option, simply listed as "steamed dumplings," provides a little choice: beef, shrimp or pork. The pork pops inside these thicker skins with sharp notes of fresh ginger and green onions. Choosing the better dumpling is impossible. Order both. A small plate of spicy sliced beef is, perhaps, the cleanest version I've had in recent memory. The cold slices of chewy beef look like crystallized mosaics of meat and fat coated in red chili flakes that add just the right amount of heat.
Even if Te Wei's menu isn't the typical phone book-length tome, regular Chinese restaurant rules apply: It's closed on Tuesday.