Though it has occupied its Halsted Street storefront for more than a decade, Jia's has seen some pretty profound changes in the last year or two. Under new ownership, this well-kept Lincoln Park secret has increased its menu offerings exponentially. Thankfully the new owners have retained the best of the old while introducing truckloads of authentic and authentically tasty new options: All of the spicy Szechwan dishes from back in the day vie for table space with Japanese and Thai options.
The new choices are all solid and competently prepared, but Jia's strength remains in the Chinese sector of the kitchen. Don't worry about walking out a bloated mess, the menu proudly states that there is not a trace of MSG in the place, and the sparing use of oil prevents that terrible "I need a shower now" feeling that comes all too often on the tail of greasy Chinese meals. At a mere $2.50, the hot and sour soup may be the best in town: perfect in its texture and consistency and just peppery enough.
In concert with the decor, the food and the vibe make for an experience that feels and tastes like it should cost more than it does, with entrees running $9-$14. Intimate seating, thoughtful lighting and pretty plants and woodwork make everyone in the place look and feel a little better, even if the loud classical music is a touch bourgeois. The waitstaff are attentive and charming; I practically found myself crushing on the waiter who so artfully folded my moo shu chicken into its pancakes, then presented me with the bountiful and plate-scrapingly delicious portion. The folks in the kitchen are willing to accommodate even the most arcane culinary quirks, so picky weirdos can request any changes to menu items without hesitation.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Roni Shapira