October 26, 2023 | OPINION | By Sam Treat
Is there anything quite so American as strip-mall Asian food from a restaurant with a random medley of words constituting its name?
For whatever reason, the United States seems to be covered in “China Gardens” and “Golden Dragon” restaurants. In fact, the naming of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. is such a phenomenon that studies have been conducted regarding their nomenclature. The Medium, for one, took a long, hard look at the naming of these restaurants and, while it found that many were highly repetitive, the study failed to uncover another restaurant with the name Coal Mine Dragon.
The uniquely named restaurant calls a strip mall that abuts the King Soopers parking lot on Colorado Springs’ Uintah Street home. Just five minutes’ drive from campus, it baffled me that I had driven by so many times without a second thought. Thus, I was excited to delve into the offerings of the dimly lit Coal Mine Dragon.
Greeted by an enthusiastic woman behind the register, I was handed a lengthy menu and told to let them know if I had any questions. The growing stack of bagged food behind the front counter showed that many patrons were takeout customers. Soon, I would join their ranks. Still, there were several folks eating in the comfy booths, overseen by Chinese art and illuminated by the pale, yellow bulbs that adorned the wall.
The menu described at least seven different styles of noodles, as well as a host of other entrees, sides, appetizers, and more. It took a notes app and fifteen minutes of deliberation before we were ready to order (my esteemed colleague and dear friend Esther Cornish ’24 accompanied me). I opted to go for the Coal Mine Dragon fried shrimp, barbecue pork pan fried noodles, sesame chicken and, of course, cream cheese wontons.
The Coal Mine Dragon fried shrimp was a shrimp dish (duh) that came with veggies and an abundance of sauce. The shrimp was crispy and delicious. The sauce, whatever it was, packed flavor and a sizable kick of spice. Unfortunately, for the $16 price point on this special “Chef Suggestion,” I felt that the portion was undersized.
The pork pan fried noodles, however, were anything but undersized. The thin, crispy noodles came draped in delicious, flavorful pork pieces. With another delicious mystery sauce, although not drenched, these noodles were a smashing success.
The crown jewel of the meal was far and away the sesame chicken. A Chinese-American classic, this was the epitome of what the dish should be. Too often the sauce-to-meat ratio is skewed one way or the other. Thankfully, the chicken here was not too drenched and not too dry – that perfect medium is so elusive for so many. Sweet and salty, the chicken delivered.
The cream cheese wontons, a Lucy Flanagan ’24-inspired addition to my life, were maybe the best I’ve ever had. Fried to crisp perfection, the wonton wrapper was sturdy and structurally sound, even after the first bite. The dipping sauce that accompanied it only added more merriment to an already joyous feast.
To be honest, I was thoroughly surprised with the quality Coal Mine Dragon delivered. Although I am someone who loves to eat at dingy restaurants far off the beaten path (often in strip malls), I rarely go into those experiences with high expectations. Even less rarely are my expectations exceeded. Yet, Coal Mine Dragon, unique in its name and cuisine, did just that.