With a stock of fish not even Sea World can claim, Hot Woks Cool Sushi brings to Old Irving Park what residents elsewhere have been eating up like sharks. Co-owner and sushi chef Woranat Wathakeyanon, aka Noom, lent his inventive hands to both Tank and Sushi Wabi, resulting in an already profitable Hot Woks just 75 steps from the turnstiles at the Irving Park Blue Line stop.
Sunflower walls and a row of rectangular windows make up the quaint sundeck-like dining area at street level; the overflow room with a sloped ceiling and a view of the Kennedy expressway completes the upstairs. Overall, the sweet design gives residents of this blue-collar community, exhausted by hot dog stands and 24-hour diners, a long overdue sense of style.
A group of fashionably suited girlfriends gather under crimson lamps in the sundeck area just a few tables over from an attractive couple enjoying cuts of fish on what appears a first date. A married couple pops in with their 8-year-old daughter and master the chopsticks while another parent, in with her teenage daughter, enjoys time away from home on a late Saturday night.
The menu fuses Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisines; hence the name and yin-yang philosophy behind the establishment, which seeks to maintain the traditional balance of classic dishes and merge them with regional flavors to create a cultural evolution of taste. Exhibit A: the untraditional egg rolls, Hot Woks' version of the Cantonese favorite, stuffed with sausage. On the Hot Woks portion of the menu, Noom will tell you his preferred dish is the pad Thai. The majority of the clientele, though, gulp down signature rolls like the Dragon and Harajuku, $11.95-$13.95. Hot Woks is BYO and lunch specials start at $7.95. Delivery is available.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez