051616chinamoon3From the lunch special menu: beef with black bean sauce. The artwork, below, is by the delivery guy. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)


051616chinamoon5If it’s not already on your radar, you might never notice China Moon, squished into a corner of a Red Bank strip mall between the Windmill hot dog stand and Crate’s Beverages.

But PieHole is putting the North Bridge Avenue eatery front and center, because when it comes to lunch, China Moon offers an affordable, extensive menu — and the food is delicious.
051616chinamoon4Handmade. pan-fried dumplings from China Moon. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

051616chinamoonoutsideDelivery is free, too, but we were pleased on a recent visit to find a series of colorful paintings hanging about the four tables to the left of the door inviting us to take seats. Bonus: we were informed, in broken English, that they’re the work of the delivery guy, “Steve.”

Thirty-six—  count ’em — lunch specials ranging in price from $5.70 to $6.65 pack the menu; each comes with a choice of soda or soup. Thirteen of the options are hot and spicy.

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At other Chinese restaurants, we often find a container filled three-quarters with fried rice and a small portion of the preferred dish. It’s the other way around here. An order of beef in black bean sauce was abundant with tender beef, but also contained big chunks of fresh-cut mushroom, green pepper, snow peas, baby corn, onion and bamboo shoots.

The sauce is appropriately laced with slightly sour black beans. Savory umami flavors meld together, making this dish superior to others we’ve tried.

The hot and sour soup was a little left of ordinary, too: a thinner-than-usual broth with bits of cabbage and wood ear mushrooms and packing a terrific punch of heat. It comes with a wax baggy filled with requisite crunchy noodles.

An order of pan-fried dumplings from the appetizer section of the regular menu was far from the  the oversized, doughy clunkers we’ve gotten used to. These were delicate and handmade pot stickers — you can tell by the way the edges are pleated.

At $5.75 for 10 dumplings, the only thing PieHole felt guilty about was wolfing down the entire order in one sitting.

China Moon is open from 11 a.m. every day except Sunday, when it opens at noon. with a weeknight closing of 10 p.m. and later hours on the weekend.