The House That Joy Built
By R. H. Duke
For the second time in the past couple of months, one of my friends exclaims that the Joyful House at 4601 West Spring Mountain Road is "one of the best, local Chinese restaurants in town." This guy was
born in Hong Kong and his parents and many relatives still live there. He's often told me about his experiences dining in our city's top, hotel Chinese restaurants and that's he tried "every Chinese place in town." I have to try the Joyful House!
I like what I see when I pull up to Joyful House on a recent Saturday afternoon. It's a stand alone building, in pretty shades of pink. Two men speaking Chinese stand outside smoking cigarettes. I enter and find my dining companion
waiting. He too has tried Joyful House many times in the past, and agrees with my other friend that "its the best in town." I so want to find fault!
The interior of the three year old Joyful House is pleasant, with pink and green highlights. The Furnishings are far from plush, but they are comfortable. A miniature statue of Buddha sits in the middle of the room. About a dozen 1-dollar bills are taped to it. We're later told that this brings good luck to those who donate.
Several small chalk boards in Chinese writing disclose the day's specials. Four "saltwater" tanks prominently display fresh lobster, crabs, and fish. I like this, and have never understood why more restaurants - especially seafood houses - don't spend the money to install tanks. Bacteria forms quickly on dead crustaceans, and Chinese people prefer them live.
The menu at Joyful House is primarily Cantonese - heavy on grilled and roasted meats, seafood soups and fried rice
dishes. We're told by a manager that the owner is one of the original founders of the Food Express Chinese Restaurant on South Decatur - one of the most popular Chinese eateries in town. We order an appetizer of honey coated barbecued pork ($5.75). For entrees, we chose three traditional dishes - sautéed shrimp with salt and pepper ($9.50), Mongolian beef ($7.50) and Kung Pao chicken ($6.95). Our server asks if we want the "shrimp with it's head and tails attached?" My friend blurts
"certainly!" I wince and smile.
The pork appetizer comes first. It's huge! Several large strips of pork with burnt edges. The sauce is sweet and tangy. The shrimp arrives soon after. My companion tells me that the head and tail gives it "flavor." I place one in my mouth and suck. It tastes great - full of garlic and peanut oil, but I later find it an arduous task to dissect the carcass from its shell. Chinese are known to eat the whole thing - head included. I did
not try it, and would recommend that "anglos" order the shrimp "already peeled." Nonetheless, I tasted some of the meat before finally quitting and found it good. The beef and chicken dishes come steaming hot. My friend remarks that the Joyful House "brings out its plates quickly right from the kitchen," regardless of where diners are in their meal.
We found the beef the highlight. Mounds of thinly sliced meat and spinach are topped on "crispy fried
rice." The dark stock is chili based and proved excellent when mixed with the beef and rice. The tender poultry came with plenty of peanuts, peppers and chilies. I bit into one of the red chilies and immediately started to sweat!
Both dishes I tasted at Joyful House had a "clean taste." I often find Chinese food "tacky," and this feel can stick with me for several hours. Most local Chinese places are reasonably priced, but you can often pay for this cheapness
with a 1/2 day of heartburn! Not so at Joyful House.
At the end of the meal, the Joyful House gives each diner a "hot wash cloth" and of course fortune cookies. Mine says "you are about to do a great thing." I picked up the tab! For 30 dollars, we had a great meal and leftovers for 2 more. I also noticed that the Joyful House has a late night, weekend seafood buffet for $12.95. It's called "Sa-bu Sa-bu, and we were told that its has lots of fresh seafood. This
eatery is also open until 3 am every night.
Upon leaving, I walked around the entire restaurant. I found Joyful House "relatively" clean, but not up to my standards - debris in the planters, "crusty things" on the bathroom walls, and finger markings on front glass. But overall, the nice atmosphere and stellar food, make the Joyful House a great neighborhood, Chinese Restaurant.
4601 W. Spring Mountain Rd.
HOURS: 11am - 3am daily (Great late night dining!)
ATMOSPHERE: Pleasant and fresh. Cleaner than most Chinese joints. Mostly natives, but with lots of anglos.
SERVICE: Fine and attentive, but not strong with the "English" language.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Seafood, poultry and beef; rice, noodles, and vegetables. You can choose your "seafood fresh" from 4 saltwater tanks.
PRICES: Cheap to moderate - $4.95 - $17.00
R.H. Duke is a former restaurateur and a Las Vegas restaurant critic who says “Fine Dining is one of Life’s Greatest Pleasures!”