WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
With a location convenient to Uptown, Mid-City, Carrollton, and even Metairie, the Five Happiness serves an unusually large pool of customers. Its menu is long and wine, covering everything from the most basic food for people who don’t want to get too ethnic to enough ambitious creations to keep an Asian restaurant buff happy. All of this is sold at popular prices. And the take-out operation is very efficient.
The Five Happiness was one of the first Chinese restaurants hereabouts to embrace the full range of the major Chinese regional cuisines, going beyond the Cantonese and Americanized dishes that limited other menus. Although its targeting of the mainstream keeps the dining experience from crossing over into the realm of gourmet dining, they buy good, fresh raw materials and cook it all with skill. The more complex the dish, the better the performance here.
Owner Peggy Lee and her family took over the old Chinese standby How Toy in 1978. They renamed and redecorated the modest restaurant, which at the time was one of three businesses in the building. Over the years, the Five Happiness expanded into both other spaces, as well as a former Sizzler steakhouse nearby (the latter for a banquet hall). The Katrina flood sent water to the ceiling and ripped off the roof, but the Lees reopened quickly, first in the banquet facility, then in a completely rebuilt original building.
The large, handsome room is completely new since the storm and much more comfortable than the old. The dominant atmospheric theme is the continual busyness of the place, with waiters and waitresses zooming around and customers moving in and out at a rapid clip.
Chicken salad with hot sauce.
Salt-and-pepper fried calamari.
Smoked fish appetizer.
Hot and sour soup.
Shrimp with sizzling rice soup.
Combination seafood soup for two.
Savory crispy soft shell crabs.
Sizzling scallops or shrimp.
Crispy ginger shrimp.
Chinese stuffed eggplant with ground shrimp and pork.
Chicken with sesame seeds and spicy sauce.
Almond-crusted lemon chicken.
Peking duck (two hours advance notice).
Stir-fried pork strings in hot garlic sauce.
Spicy dried sauteed beef.
Sizzling beef platter with string beans.
Clay pot with subgum bean curd with chicken or shrimp (but not both).
FOR BEST RESULTS
The early evening hours are busiest, but there’s another swell later from the university crowd. The waits are shorter than they may appear. As in all Chinese restaurants, getting take-out reduces the goodness of the food by fifty percent.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I’d love to see these folks set aside a gourmet room with a slower pace and the best dishes off their menu. The usual service is too utilitarian for a restaurant with such good food.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +2
- Wine & Bar
- Local Color
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
If it’s not among the top two or three Chinese restaurants in the area, the Five Happiness is unarguably one of the busiest. Its menu is extensive and at least a little adventuresome, and the food seems to always be a touch better than the last time you ate here. The emphasis on the Mandarin classics along the lines of moo shu pork. They seem intentionally to stop short of seriously good food and service, as if these might keep you in your seat a little too long. But you could do a lot worse than to eat here.