The usual rule about Chinese restaurants is that if there are bright photographs of the menu items somewhere in the restaurant, you should run the other way. The other rule is that when a restaurant bills itself as Pan-Asian, it means they don't know how to cook any particular Asian specialty well, so instead they serve up mediocre versions of iconic dishes like pad thai or sweet and sour chicken. Joy Yee's proves the exception on both counts.
The University Village eatery eschews standard accoutrement like calligraphy, China vases and cloth fans in favor of lime-green walls, metallic red glass tile and black lacquer tables. It's an urban look with a subtle Asian flair that Oprah's designer Nate Berkus might be happy with. It's hard to believe that the cooks at Joy Yee's can keep hundreds of items straight. The War and Peace-size menu takes at least 15 minutes to read, and you'll likely send your server away at least two times while you decide what to eat. As mentioned, you will have a Technicolor index of every single dish, so you can select between five subtle variations on steamed chicken.
The bulgogi (Korean-style short ribs) and bi bim bop (sizzling rice and veg with a gently poached egg) are both soul satisfying and excellent examples done much worse in restaurants devoted solely to Korean or Vietnamese food. The shrimp dipped in sweet spices, skewered on sugar cane and deep fried is exceptional. There is variation in quality from location to location, and in our opinion, this location is the best in Chicago. Appetizers range from $4-$8 and entrees from $6-$12.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant