Win at Liu’s

L iu’s Lunch is an open book, with colorful lists of Chinese dishes wrapping three sides of the food truck’s quilted metal frame.

Liu’s Lunch is also an enigma. A few years ago, I tasked a writer with getting the inside story of the truck, always parked at lunchtime on Cedar Street near York, but the man inside declined to tell it. I wasn’t really surprised. As a customer, I’d gathered that Liu—if that’s even his name; the truck’s title might just be a funny play on Louis’ Lunch—isn’t much of a talker.

Still, there’s no doubting his talent as a listener. He hasn’t once gotten my order wrong in the several years I’ve been buying, including at peak times when active orders might be stacked five or more deep.

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It’s especially in those moments when you wouldn’t dare try to get to know the chef. Instead, you both stick to the usual efficiencies. He smiles, asks what you’d like. You answer, he confirms. You step back or to the side, making way for other diners to place their orders. And then, after a few minutes of quiet choreography set to the rhythms of bubbling water and sizzling oil, he calls out your order, at which point you trade the $6 or so for your bounty. He thanks you as you pay, then puts his nose back to the grindstone.

The dishes he serves are as economical as the man. Portions are considerable; if I had more self-control, I could get a meal and a snack out of each takeout container, usually filled for me with the Tofu with Mixed Vegetables ($6, pictured above). Liu’s has never skimped, either in quantity or quality, on the tofu—lightly fried, with creases and crevices that catch the savory brown sauce—or the steamed mixed veggies—green beans withered by heat but still crisp; broccoli florets tender but not mushy; leaves of cabbage bringing some bitterness and crunch; chunks of celery adding freshness and brightness; touches of carrot and onion deepening the flavor. The relative healthfulness of the dish is best balanced, in my opinion, with Liu’s unctuous oil-fried rice, though I occasionally dabble in the white or brown rice, or the noodles.

Either way, spending six bucks and a few minutes for a tasty, satisfying result always feels like a big win.

Liu’s Lunch
Cedar St near York St, New Haven (map)
Weekdays—maybe weekends as well—at lunchtime, until 3pm or so.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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