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So, How Were Things at Ying's?

Charming digs and Chinese fare at a North Seattle drive-in.

The grand opening of Edmonds’s very own Dick’s Drive-In is just around the corner, marking the Washington burger maker’s first expansion since 1974. , with Snohomish County residents counting the days until they can pick up a Dick’s Deluxe in their ‘hood.

 led me to briefly ponder the nature of the drive-in restaurant. I have memories of my parents taking me by the A&W drive-in in Coos Bay, Oregon for root beer floats and onion rings ordered from the driver’s side window and consumed in the car. I have of course been to Dick’s, and the set-up there differs from that of Coos Bay's now-defunct A&W. After parking at Dick's, the diner leaves the car, bellies up to the order window and totes away his or her bag o’ burgers. I wondered, are both versions truly considered “drive in” restaurants?

“You could ask Guy Fieri,” my co-worker suggested, referencing the Food Network’s specialist regarding all things Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Doubtful that Mr. Fieri would return any inquiry before my review’s deadline, I consulted the Internet for answers. I found that drive-in restaurants are characterized by ample parking and quick service, often serving diner favorites like hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes. Drive-ins may involve diners ordering from their cars via an intercom system with carhops proffering the meal (a la Sonic). Alternately, the drive-in restaurant may allow for driving diners to easily park their cars and then walk up to service counter to place and receive orders (a la Dick’s).

With this mystery solved and a still a couple of months to go before Edmonds residents can buy Dick’s burgers right in town, I headed south to check out another drive-in restaurant—Ying’s, on Lake City Way in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood. Like Dick’s, Ying’s features plenty of parking and speedily prepared chow passed through its service windows. Unlike Dick’s, Ying’s specializes inAmerican Chinese food.

I found Ying's picture-perfect as a drive-in, brimming with retro style and splashes of bright color. Though the atmosphere inside the restaurant had a stillness to it, the whizz of Lake City Way traffic and the squeak of Metro bus brakes at the adjacent stop staved off serenity. The abundant potted plants framed by swags of Christmas lights and silver tinsel gave the place a sleepy, timeless feel offset by chairs boisterous in coats of high gloss red enamel.

But while Ying’s appearance was quirkily delightful, the food was for the most part a letdown. Whereas I fully expected the fare to be highly-Americanized Chinese cuisine, I nevertheless had hopes of satisfying flavors and textures. Instead, I found myself with slightly mushy steamed rice and soggy Orange Chicken ($9.95) in a dressing that tasted like little more than bitter orange peel steeped in soy sauce. I did appreciate that the veggies of my Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots & Snow Peas ($8.35) retained some of their crispness, but they came in a near-flavorless goo of a “sauce” that didn’t do the roughage any favors.

Ying’s offers several reasonably-priced combination meals, and I selected combo #2 ($8.05) and its Pork Chow Mein, Sweet & Sour Prawns, Almond Fried Chicken and BBQ Pork Fried Rice. The tangle of bland chow mein and its slightly burnt crisp noodles were slightly less appetizing than what I recalled of my last encounter with a shelf-stable La Choy “family meal”.  Somewhat better were the golden battered prawns and their rather untraditional purplish, plummy sauce. Despite its gummy batter, the meat of the Almond Fried Chicken was moist and the sauce of chopped nuts pleasant albeit salty.

The best of the bunch at Ying’s easily was the BBQ pork-fried rice, with which I couldn’t find fault. Well-seasoned and nicely balancing grains of rice with jewels of meat and vegetables, the savory side was a pleasing standout in an otherwise lackluster meal.

Though I didn’t find in Ying’s my new go-to spot for Chinese fare, I did appreciate the charm of the drive-in’s aesthetic. The countdown to Dick’s continues…

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