I'm a survivor, I'm not gon' give up.
I'm not gon' stop, I'm gon' work harder.
I'm a survivor, I'm gonna make it.
I will survive, keep on survivin'
Those are the deep thoughts and words of Destiny’s Child (for the children reading this, that was Beyoncé’s training ground). Bad grammar aside, it is a fact that to survive you can’t stop and you must work harder, especially in a business as difficult as the hospitality industry.
Lotus was Wilton Manors’ staple for decades. For years, it was one of the few thriving businesses in a dying strip mall. Your typical old-school Chinese restaurant, with cranky old ladies waiting tables and delicious, if not exciting food. It recently moved into a spot on Federal just south of Oakland Park Blvd. which had been Joe’s Deli, Toast and Toasted, and seemed to be one of those places where restaurants just can’t make a go of it. Well, Lotus is a survivor and not only is doing well at its new location, but it also seems to have brought a lot of fans from its original location.
How did they do it? How do they seem to thrive in a location where so many others failed? I return to the song lyrics again. They don’t stop and they work harder. They’ve made what used to seem a sterile, uninviting, dining room welcoming and cozy, with a few minor alterations in décor. The staff, if not the most polished, is friendly and checks in on you just often enough to be solicitous without being overbearing, and Lotus’ owner, John Yang, grandson of the founders of the original Lotus (opened in 1975), is constantly checking in on both the front and back of the house. While we dined, he checked on our table twice during our hour-long meal, after the appetizer and entrée had been served. I watched and he did the same for every table, spending time chatting with regulars.
The food at Lotus isn’t unusual, mostly your usual Cantonese favorites: chow mein, egg foo young, fried rice, and sweet & sour dishes, with a choice of proteins. But there are also a few nods to more modern Asian fare, such as Singapore noodles, chow fun, gyoza, kung pao, and chicken with Chinese eggplant. There is also a large section for vegetarians. The new location also serves wine, beer, and sake.
On our most recent visit, my husband and I munched on the complimentary fried strips of won-ton noodles (with sweet & sour dipping sauce) as I perused the menu. Hubby doesn’t need to look at the menu because he gets the same thing at every Chinese restaurant: vegetable fried rice. We ordered spring rolls as a starter, and they were crisp and fresh, without being oily. I was looking at the shrimp dishes because Lotus is one of the few Chinese restaurants to cook shrimp properly. In every dish I’ve had from Lotus, the crustaceans are plump and juicy. Most Chinese restaurants overcook shrimp to the point where it is rubbery. One of my favorite Chinese dishes is chow fun, a thick rice noodle that is steamed and then stir-fried. Lotus offers it with beef. I asked to substitute shrimp and was accommodated. When the dish arrived, I was taken back to Bak-Ba’s (grandmother’s) kitchen. It was sheer perfection, and the shrimp was perfectly cooked, as I expected. The servings were so large we had enough for dinner the next night.
It may take a few minutes extra for us to drive to Lotus now, but it is well worth the time. The dining experience is so much better than it used to be (frankly the old space was in desperate need of an overhaul and smelled bad). If you haven’t been to Lotus for a while, you owe it to yourself to check out the new location, and if you’ve never been, a treat is awaiting you. On weekends, it’s always best to make reservations.
Lotus Chinese Kitchen
3020 N Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale