I asked the young man behind the counter at Tian Yi what the name of the restaurant meant in English.
He smiled sheepishly before answering: "No. 1 in the world." Well, why not aim high, I figured.
But, wait. After plowing through an enormous amount of Tian Yi's food later that evening, we realized this little carryout in Waverly deserves some heartfelt kudos.
Regular readers will recall my persistent complaint that Baltimore's Chinese carryouts are too timid with their spices and too liberal with their cornstarch and other thickeners that tend to turn all dishes into goo.
Not Tian Yi. The young cooks working in a large open kitchen created several potent, nongooey dishes. Ingredients seemed fresh and everything on the menu was reasonably priced.
Our appetizers were all quite good. Spring rolls ($3 for two) were light and flavorful. Steamed dumplings ($4.25) also were prepared well and came with a zesty dipping sauce. And the house special soup ($5.25) turned out to be a large serving of mild broth packed with chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetables - a meal by itself.
The entrees were better. Szechuan chicken ($5.50) had a nice bite and plenty of meat. Broccoli with garlic sauce ($6.50) was also a winner - broccoli that had not been overcooked, spiced with plenty of pepper and a hint of something sweet.
We tried sia man chow mai fun ($7.95), a delicious combination of thin noodles and slices of chicken, pork, celery, carrots and shrimp. Chicken fried rice ($5.25) was prepared just the way we like it - with no surprises.
As for dessert, how about a fortune cookie?
One heads-up: Don't expect any atmosphere at Tian Yi. There are no decorations on the walls and only a few battered booths to wait in. During our visit, a lone hubcap stood incongruously near the counter.
But, I'll trade atmosphere for good food every time.
Parking is on the street, which can be tricky, depending on the time of day.
Waiting area: **
Where: 3320 Greenmount Ave., Waverly
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Chinese appetizers, soups, noodles, fried rice, chow mein and a large variety of entrees, $2.20 to $10.95; American-style fried chicken, fish and shrimp, $2.40 to $5.55; credit cards accepted ($10 minimum) Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *