It’s that time of year again: The 2020 Cityview Best of Des Moines Awards poll is open. Local businesses, restaurants, bars, realtors, and other members of the community all vie to be the best in town. Cityview publishes their own reviews, and I usually agree with them; not on Tasty Tacos, but that’s because a lot of you are wrong.
And you are really wrong about one thing: Chinese food. The readers’ choice happens every year. Inevitably, Hy-Vee Chinese shows up as the best (or almost certainly one of the top three) in Des Moines. This is a lie.
Hy-Vee is amazing. It’s a truly great store. I drive farther to go to a Hy-Vee than the Fareway down the street from me. Why? Maybe it’s habit, but Hy-Vee does the presentation right. Dahl’s was nice, but every store was dark like a dungeon. Plus, the colors of brown, orange, and blue? Um, that’s a no from me. Hy-Vee has always been welcoming and bright. Fareway is economical and doesn’t hide from that. They want you to save money. Both Hy-Vee and Fareway have great customer service, and Dahl’s did as well. But I’m thinking of them as a grocery store.
The food at Hy-Vee is pretty good. Some things are better than others. Their pizza is alright but certainly not Casey’s level. The Chinese is NOT BAD. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good. You won’t be disappointed. But this is a BEST OF list. The best of the best should win. Hy-Vee should not win for Chinese food. People filling out the survey are afraid to leave spaces blank, so they throw in the first thing that comes to mind. That’s Hy-Vee. In Des Moines, like many other places, we’ve grown up with the store as a part of our daily life and of the community. And I LOVE that. Hy-Vee does it right.
However, so do a ton of local restaurants with vastly superior Chinese food. I’m a big fan of Tsing Tsao across from AE Dairy. The hot and sour soup is delicious, their prices are competitive, and they have an incredibly friendly staff. I put their BBQ sauce on my beef lo mein, and it’s out of this world.
There is also Shang Yuen on Merle Hay and Hickman. It is also very good. In The Matrix, Neo says he loved a place because it had “good noodles.” I used to think, “Noodles are noodles. How different can they be?” The answer is very different, in Shang Yuen’s case. They’re really good.
Giving the nod to Hy-Vee is like saying that Pizza Hut has the best pizza in town. Fong’s can take Pizza Hut to suplex city without hesitation. The same with Chinese in Des Moines. A ton of locally owned and operated restaurants deserve that vote. The families behind it deserve that vote. A buddy of mine in high school was from a family that had a place called Mr. Egg Roll, a pretty well known place on the south side of Des Moines. He put in a ton of hours, along with the rest of his family, running that restaurant. That’s the lifestyle of having your own restaurant. You’re CONSTANTLY working. And when you aren’t working, you’re thinking about work. It is your livelihood.
Hy-Vee will not lose much if you don’t buy their Chinese. A local restaurant will. They use that money to pay bills (one of my biggest gripes with society is that some people think small business owners just rake in the dollars and never have to worry about balancing costs) and provide for their families. They have employees that rely on them for income for their own families. Give them your dollars and give them your love.
I am not suggesting that you avoid Hy-Vee. I’m just saying maybe don’t give them an award just because. The families and employees of local restaurants have put everything into their craft. They deserve your love. The deserve their awards. They will proudly display it. Ask George from G Migs, Simon at Simon’s (best hockey player in town), or my friends at The Winchester. It’s more than just a piece of paper to them. It’s validation for all of their blood, sweat, and tears. The late nights, long hours, and sacrifice. That’s where you should look. Give the nearest restaurant a try. You might be surprised how great it actually is.