Restaurant Review

Big Wing Wah

Can a Chinese and Japanese restaurant in Hillsborough, whose name translates to "big success," make a splash on the dining scene?

"Wing wah” is a Chinese colloquialism meaning “best wishes for success.” Or big success, as the name would have it. With its low-key location in the Hillsborough Plaza Shopping Center off Route 206, this diminutive eatery doesn’t grab your lapels, but it deserves notice for its pleasing fare and attentive service.

Big Wing Wah is led by two dynamic young brothers—Zuan Li, 28, heads the kitchen; Zu Ren Li, 25, oversees the dining room. The two emigrated from Fujian province in Southern China earlier this decade. Both learned the restaurant trade through stints at several Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area as well as Manhattan.

For a little place, Big Wing Wah’s affordably priced menu varies widely, including heat-infused Szechuan and Hunan food, many familiar Chinese dishes from other areas, and a “Japanese Fashion” section featuring an extensive sushi selection as well as cooked dishes, from tempura to teriyaki. The kitchen handles most of this variety with aplomb. Perfectly fried scallion pancakes, delectably greaseless, mated nicely with a side of dumpling sauce. Sizzling rice soup did present a puzzle.

Customarily, steaming broth is poured at the table into the bowl of ingredients, creating a medley of sounds and smells. At Big Wing Wah, the soup arrived already in its bowl—a precaution, it was explained, against splattering customers. Sigh. Mysteriously, rice noodles stood in for rice. Nonetheless, the broth tasted just briny enough, and the shrimp and water chestnuts were impeccable.

Dumplings are a specialty here. We chose steamed, shredded pork dumplings—large, generously packed with meat, but too thick in the dough, making them heavy. Our table’s favorite starter was the spareribs—juicy, greaseless, meaty, a pleasure to gnaw to the bone.

Among main dishes, Big Wing Wah Special Roll from the sushi menu was filled with salmon tempura, avocado, strips of eel, and yet more avocado. The unctuous salmon and avocado predominated, leaving the roll in need of some acidic or spicy counterpoint.

A Chinese entrée, pan-fried whole flounder, came with a beautiful and light cornmeal crust that enrobed the moist fish. An accompanying soy-based sauce garnished with vegetable strips lacked character and contrast. Similar timidity of seasoning marred beef chow fun despite tender morsels of meat and toothsome, broad rice noodles. The kitchen uses no MSG and might need to adjust seasoning to avoid lackluster flavor.
In Hunan and Szechuan specialties, the judicious approach to seasoning works well; the nuanced use of spices enhances, rather than masks, the top-quality ingredients. Spicy pork with tea sauce exemplified this. The dish had an appealing smoky undertone. Sesame shrimp provided a rewarding variation on sweet-and-sour, but spiked with a bit of heat as well as a nice acidic zing from pineapple.

Recalibrating seasoning in a few dishes, perhaps expanding the Szechuan and Hunan repertoire, and introducing some specialties from their home province of Fujian will help this little restaurant achieve the ambitions its name suggests.

Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Asian - Japanese
  • Price Range:
  • Big Wing Wah
    390 Rte 206 South
    Hillsborough, NJ 08844
  • Hours:
    DINNER: Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 10:30 pm; Sunday, 11 am to 9:30 pm
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