UPDATE: We ate at the sister restaurant in San Carlos, Hot Wok Bistro Too, on 4/29/2019. Review from that visit can be found below the original article.
Good for: Families
Price Range: Decent, $8 lunch specials
Features: Good selection, most dishes can be made gluten-free
Gluten-Free Chinese Food at Hot Wok Bistro in San Mateo, CA
ORIGINAL REVIEW 2/6/2014: It’s been ages since we’ve gone out to eat Chinese food. Why? Because most soy sauce brands used in those restaurants contain wheat. On top of that, the idea of gluten-intolerance and celiac disease don’t travel well across the language barriers. So, we were more than excited to find out that there was a place that served gluten-free Chinese restaurant that actually offered the option of cooking with tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) and was knowledgeable of which dishes could be adjusted to be gluten-free. On top of that, it’s super close to us!
Hot Wok Bistro is near the freeway and sandwiched between two warehouse-type properties. Everything seemed clean and there was a modest amount of seating. The place is on the smaller size but it’s open enough to not make the patrons feel squished in. We saw several ‘regulars’ come in, and all of different ethnicities. We could tell by their familiarity and conversation that they probably come here all the time during their lunch hour. That’s always a good sign in regards to the food and service.
Hot Wok Bistro Restaurant, Food, Service
First of all, we’ll tackle the food in general. The typical Chinese-American dishes tasted good and there was a decent variety. I wouldn’t classify this as mind-blowingly awesome gluten-free Chinese food, it’s enjoyable and definitely on the upper side in terms of taste and price.
For my daughter and I, we ordered the Cha Siu Chow Fun (BBQ pork with the wide rice noodles). The pork was tasty but a little on the dry side. Keep in mind that Chinese BBQ pork is NOT gluten-free as it’s marinated in a soy sauce mixture. However, the sauce was flavorful and the veggies mixed in nicely. The second dish was a bit of a treat for me – Honey Walnut Shrimp. It was breaded very lightly and it wasn’t drowning in the mayo sauce. This is actually the best rendition I’ve tasted so far. Even my teen enjoyed it and, sadly, I had to share the dish with her.
My husband had Broccoli Beef over Chow Fun (the wide rice noodles). They basically said he could order anything and they’d adjust it to be gluten-free if possible. As a family restaurant, all the people we encountered were more than happy to make something he could eat. And that he did. For the first time in a while, he was able to eat at a Chinese restaurant and not get sick! He said the food was a bit on the salty side but that he enjoyed it and would totally eat there again. Kudos to the owners for being so conscious of this condition!
Food was good. All the dishes came out quickly and were served hot. Service was attentive. They cook with gluten-free soy sauce and keep it on hand. We’ll definitely be back.
Gluten-Free Chinese Food at Hot Wok Bistro Too in San Carlos, CA
UPDATE 4/29/19: Ever since Frans was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 2013, we have been extremely wary of eating out at local restaurants. Though many places claim to serve gluten-free food, he has been “glutened” many times over the years due to untrained staff and cross-contamination. But, today, I was SERIOUSLY craving some gluten-free Chinese food since it had been way too long since last had any. We happened to remember going to Hot Wok Bistro and decided to try their newer (2015) sister restaurant, Hot Wok Bistro Too, in San Carlos, CA.
Hot Wok Bistro Too seemed to come up often when searching for gluten-free Chinese food in the San Mateo area. This made us wonder if this location would be a safer bet to eat at. So, we hopped on the freeway and made our way to San Carlos. This restaurant seemed more spacious and modern than the original one and the large windows in the front made it a whole lot easier to take good photos of the food. 🙂
We arrived just as the restaurant opened on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and were promptly seated. I asked the waiter if they had a dedicated gluten-free menu but they did not. Instead, he basically said to order anything we wanted and he would let us know if it could be made gluten-free or not. We decided on Broccoli Chow Fun with pork, Mongolian Beef, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and Orange-Glazed Chicken.
At one point, the owner came to our table to let us know that the Orange-Glazed Chicken could not be made gluten-free and asked us if we wanted the Lemon Chicken or Dry-Braised (General Chao) Chicken in its place. We opted for the Dry-Braised. The food came out quickly and it all looked AMAZING!
The Broccoli Chow Fun was our favorite with the Mongolian Beef running a close second. We would definitely order both of those again (which will be every week starting from today 😳), albeit a little less “heat” in the Mongolian seasoning since we’re total spice wimps. Both dishes were moist and tasty. The two chicken dishes looked good and had nice flavoring. However, the chicken was dry and hard. I’m not sure if this was how they tried to mimic fried breading or if they just overcooked the meat in general. While I was glad the meat was undercooked, we plan on avoiding chicken in future orders.
We really enjoyed our lunch and our craving for gluten-free Chinese food was finally fulfilled. The entire staff we interacted with spoke English perfectly and had full knowledge of providing “safe” food for those avoiding gluten. I asked if either the San Mateo location or the San Carlos one was better for gluten-free options. The waiter told us that both are the same in that respect. Now that we know this, plus the fact that they’ve had over five years of experience cooking gluten-free, we plan on visiting both restaurants regularly from here on out!