Chinese restaurants often have multiple menus or menus with sections that are in English and sections in Chinese only.
Hong Kong-style restaurants take it to the extreme, they have menus on the walls, under table glass, on tables in stands with the sugar, handed out by waiters, and more. The most extravagant are the neighborhood cha can ting (茶餐廳) with myriad sets and offers for breakfast, for lunch, for afternoon tea, for dinner, for late night. It can either be a fun treasure hunt or intimidating. Chinatowns in Canada have some very authentic versions, in the US they are few, one I like in New York is XO Kitchen at 148 Hester St, not to be confused with nearby XO Cafe in Little Italy.
Here are three wall menus at House of Gourmet in Toronto. What to do?
English-only: when items are only in English, what is the restaurant telling you? That they think it would be embarrassing to even try to serve those items to Chinese customers. Avoid. Possible exception an occasional guilty pleasure, like when I order sesame chicken despite the lasers of humiliated fury coming from my wife’s eyes.
Chinese and English: these can run the authentic spectrum, look for items that have awkward translations or not entirely clear what they are without explanation. Try vegetables. Note that dishes that come with rice are designed to be quick one person meals, not dishes to share. Congee is porridge by another name. Think beyond dim sum.
Chinese-only: things get interesting and depend on risk-tolerance especially with often-curt waitstaff that don’t want to explain or don’t have the English facility. You can ask other diners for help. You can end up with the XO sauce oysters for 14.99 (second from left) or the bean sprouts fried large intestine for 8.99 (fifth from left).
The tried and true method is still to wander around and find out what others are eating.
And we always have space at our table, the more people, the more we can order!