Mystery Diner: Chen Chinese Cuisine in Crystal Lake great for takeout

One business that came into the COVID-19 pandemic ready to pivot to full-time carryout and delivery was Chen Chinese Cuisine.

They are in the process of closing their Lake in the Hills restaurant and consolidating at their Crystal Lake store at the intersection of Route 14 and Main Street.

A staple that can set Chinese restaurants apart from one another is a dish we’re fond of: sweet-and-sour chicken. First off, we appreciate that Chen provides a healthy portion of sauce in a separate, sealable container, as opposed to in a box like a few eateries try. As for comparing preparation prowess, it comes down to the quality of the chicken and the taste of the sauce.

Our younger diners enjoy the sauce at Chen, and we know we’ll get quality breaded chicken. Everyone in the family will eat it, they’ll fill up, and they know it is a treat to eat out from there, so much so that we requested a large order ($10.95) and a kids meal portion ($6.50).

A favorite of another of our fellow diners that you can’t find everywhere is chicken lettuce wraps ($7.75).

The dish comes with around five pieces of lettuce and a container filled with wok-fried chicken, onion and water chestnuts on a bed of crispy rice noodles. One of our younger diners always finds a way to steal a wrap.

Among my favorites to try is the crispy honey chicken ($10.95), which Chen does a great job with. That order doesn’t always reheat well, so I know I have to eat all of it on the first day, which I did. It has the perfect proportions on the honey sauce – not too thick or thin.

I like the taste enough that I also tried out the cream shrimp with honey-glazed walnuts ($7.50) appetizer. They were just as good. Wait, they were better. That’s an appetizer that I definitely will have to try again.

Since we’re talking about appetizers, another great gauge of a Chinese restaurant’s caliber is to try out the crab Rangoon ($4.50).

In this case, they are certainly above average. There are five in an order and they went quickly. I dunked one in the sweet-and-sour sauce and another in the honey glaze. You can’t go wrong with those two options.

Our final diner ordered the orange chicken as a main course. I know, I know, we didn’t have a ton of variety on these entrees. But another point is that the chicken at Chen is good. We know it’s good, and we lean into that in a takeout order of comfort food.

We were all pleased with the meals, the price was reasonable, and we all filled up with the food. Everyone enjoyed it, and that’s saying something from this picky crew.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee at the Northwest Herald. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff when ordering or picking up the food. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Chen Chinese Cuisine

WHERE: 6100 Northwest Highway, Crystal Lake

PHONE: 815-356-8899

INFORMATION: chenchinesecuisine.com