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Cheap eats

House of Chang a neighborly spot in Cambridge

(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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Lucky Garden occupied the same drab yellow-brick and cinderblock building near Huron Village for so long that it faded into the kind of urban lacuna you could breeze by a thousand times and never notice. But this restaurant has come to life again, with new owners, a new menu, and a new name: House of Chang. The Chang family, who previously have owned several Chinese restaurants in the area, including Changsho in Cambridge, renovated the dingy dining room into a sleek space with burnished wood floors and eggplant-colored walls. Perhaps the most remarkable change of all: On some nights, the restaurant is packed.

One recent Sunday, not long after House of Chang opened, the restaurant slowly fills with diners, curious as prairie dogs popping out of their warm burrows to explore this new neighborhood intrigue. A white-haired man tells acquaintances at another table how happy he is for a good Chinese restaurant nearby. The friendly staff seem intent on making this a comfortable place for regulars. When we return a week later, not only does the staff remember us, but we’re asked if we wish to sit at the same corner table. One of the restaurant’s delights is Jasmine Chang, co-owner, who buzzes around the dining room, chatting with diners and delivering a plate of her homemade cookies at meal’s end. One night, they are almond morsels; another, sweet little honey-walnut cookies.

The menu boasts familiar fare. Scallion pancakes ($3.50) are crispy, although a bit sparse in scallions. One of the few unusual dishes is House Special Chicken ($11.25), a plate of tiny pieces of diced chicken and vegetables in a mild sauce, topped with pine nuts and cellophane noodles, delivered with lettuce leaves for wraps. Although the chicken is tender and the carrots are cooked perfectly, still firm, the dish is bland, leaving us puzzled that this is, as the menu tells us, the restaurant’s most highly recommended dish.

We’re much happier with old standbys, spicy General Gau’s crispy tofu ($8.95), and the sweet heat of beef with orange peel ($12.50), where slivers of tenderloin are deep-fried and glazed with a syrupy sauce studded with dried orange peel and hot peppers. Seafood delight ($16.95; below) is another mild dish, this one in a wine sauce, though it is redeemed by generous portions of perfectly cooked lobster, scallops, and shrimp.

We would love to see the kitchen send out a few more audacious dishes. In the meantime, we’re happy to loiter at our corner table, remembering ghosts of restaurants past and speculating about the cookie of the day.

HOUSE OF CHANG 282 Concord Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-9888, www.houseofchangcambridge.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $3.50-$16.50, lunch specials $6-$7.95, dinner entrees $7.95-$16.95

Hours Sun-Thurs 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

Liquor None.

May we suggest Scallion pancakes, seafood delight, beef with orange peel.

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