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Wendy and her ways

Wendy’s II near the Tacoma Mall was just what the doctor ordered

WHERE TO FIND WENDY: Check out Wendy’s II on Tacoma Mall Boulevard as the boys did this week, or go to the Freighthouse Square location as our cameraman did (doh!). Either way works. Photography by J.M. Simpson

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Wendy’s II

Where: 5015 Tacoma Mall Blvd., Tacoma, 253.471.0228
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 2-8 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Chinese
Scene: Casual, family-friendly dining
Drinkies: Limited beer and wine, bubble tea, milkshakes, standard nonalcoholic beverages
Prices: $4.95-$11.95

ANNOUNCER: Owner Wendy Au began serving delicious Asian food at her walk-up counter in Freighthouse Square food court more than 20 years ago.  While Pearl Jam was still ruling the charts, she opened Wendy’s II, a sit-down restaurant near the Tacoma Mall. Both locations are popular among those looking for a tasty, fast and affordable bite to eat. Freighthouse does a solid bustling lunch business while the Tacoma Mall location offers a more leisurely dining experience with later hours. The place is casual with no side of pretension. It is what it is. The service is fast, the special board a must-see, and the food always hot and plentiful.

JAKE: The windows at Wendy’s II were steamed over as we walked up. I consider that a good sign. Scents of garlic and fish sauce greeted my nose, but I could barely smell it plagued by a sinus headache and stuffy nose as I was. I needed healing chicken noodle soup, and man, did Wendy’s II deliver. Lots of chicken, green onion, black pepper, and long thin noodles curled in the bowl with fried onion garnish. I added two heaping spoonfuls of red chili sauce. Shebang! Good-bye headache, hello clear sinuses.

JASON: The yellow curried prawn appetizer arrived quickly. Six skewered and grilled mud bugs, as we like to call them, sat atop green leaf lettuce. The prawns had a nice smoky flavor that complemented the curry. Totally starving, I made the curry soaked lettuce leaf into a stuffed tomato and cucumber taco.

JAKE: If I didn’t know better, I’d think by the way you inhaled that improvised lettuce leaf taco that you’d been enjoying an herbal jazz cigarette before I picked you up. Hmmm. Anyway, as you may remember I used to be hooked on ginger. Of late, though, I can’t seem to get enough lemon grass. Made with liberal amounts of fish sauce, the lemon grass chicken at Wendy’s II is a tangy, savory dish that’s in serious running for a spot on my top 10 favorite dishes list. Spooning sauce on brown rice made it a soupy rice puddle. Homer Simpson would say, “Mmmm, good.”

JASON: On a later lunch visit I was looking for a lean protein hit and gave the lemon grass tofu a whirl. The tofu was soft but not mushy; vegetables were al dente and garlic strong but not overwhelming. An order of hum bow was big, pillowy soft and stuffed with spiced ground pork and spicy Chinese sausage. I plopped it right in the oyster-hoisin-soy sauce and let it soak before devouring.

JAKE: Sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce are base ingredients for the kung pao chicken I ordered. Heaving a great contented sigh, I forked through a plate of all breast meat — no dark thigh meat to be found — and many peanuts, snow peas and garlic cloves. Wow, it may be a common one, but the kung pao here is a good dish. I really liked how fresh the vegetables were; nothing was greasy or oily.

JASON: Bubble tea is one of those things you either really enjoy or you think is weird. I am a bubble tea guy, and the stuff at Wendy’s II is out of this world. It’s a perfect dessert substitute. I’m not really sure what the black balls are; I never eat them. The fruit tasted so fresh, and there’s a great selection — strawberry, mango, pineapple, coconut, peach and coffee. Wendy’s II offers about 20 different kinds — in addition to milkshakes and fruit shakes if you’re the non-bubble tea sort.

JAKE: They’re black tapioca pearls, dude, but I’m going let you off the hook on your black balls statement since we’re out of room this week. Watching the stately woman who is the restaurant’s namesake make her way from table to table was like watching a patient mother doting on her children. Wendy’s smile was genuine, and she did not rush as she made rounds inquiring how diners liked the food. How refreshing.

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