Before I noticed the painted "wall" ringing the top of the dining room I thought it might just be a silly name. But was "Great Wow" really a politically incorrect pun on "Great Wall?" Had Trump already been elected and I just failed to notice? In fact, the Chinese characters actually spelled out "wall." Then I tasted the food at the latest addition to the Convoy District's collection of regional Chinese restaurants. Wow.
Great Wow (3860 Convoy St.) is a Beijing-style Northern Chinese dumpling and noodle house. Dive right into the noodles with their take on zha jiang mian (Beijing fried sauce noodles): Great Wow noodles with meat. A bowl of noodles is topped with sections of julienned cucumbers and carrots as well as chopped celery and bean sprouts, appearing like a Chinese, noodly take on bibimbap. The real action lies in the sauce of pork cooked down slowly in its fat with bean paste and soy, almost a Chinese version of pork rilletes or confit. You combine it all at the table for one of the most satisfying bowls of noodles anywhere.
At the heart of Great Wow's menu are a variety of jiaozi, Chinese boiled dumplings. These aren't the delicate steamed affairs of dim sum nor are they hearty, nearly Eastern European pierogi-like dumplings. They're hand-rolled wrappers filled with a variety of meat, seafood and vegetable fillings. Every table has little bottles of soy, black vinegar and chile oil (along with a white pepper shaker) that diners can use to mix their own dumpling sauce.
My favorite was the bok choy, dried-shrimp-and-egg-filled boiled dumplings. The wrappers are thin with a toothsome, almost stretchy texture. The filling features a burst of savory flavors with the shrimp coming to the front and the egg rounding things out. Other great dumpling options at Great Wow include the pork, chive-and-shrimp and the beef-and-mushroom.
Great Wow's "bao wow"—think smaller versions of dim sum buns along the lines of char siu bao—are also good choices. On one trip, the braised pork buns were excellent: a delicious savory and meaty explosion of flavor inside a doughy bun. On another trip, however, the filling was nothing more than heavy. Its version of xiao long bao (soup dumplings) was excellent if unusual, with a deeply porky flavor.
The cold appetizers are a mixed bag. While the tofu skin dish seemed light on the soy and heavy on the chile oil, the cucumber appetizer was both dramatic (whole cucumbers spiral cut to take the pickling) and delicious with an unexpected sweetness. But it was the tripe appetizer that really stood out, the balanced ma la spicy marinade managed to bring out all of the meatiness of the tripe without even a hint of residual minerality.
We've gotten used to regional Chinese food in San Diego. We've gotten used to the idea that Chinese doesn't have to mean the Cantonese Top 40 or dim sum. But the wow factor at Great Wow is its completely unique—at least for San Diego—take on the theme of noodles and dumplings.