When you hear the term Fast Food, you probably think of drive-thrus, pre-made burgers, and assembly line burritos. The food might not be good, but it doesn’t have to be. You’re just looking for something to eat in your car.
But fast food, lowercase - food that is fast - is different. These are neighborhood spots like a fantastic deli, a burger stand, or a taco truck. They serve affordable, quick meals that come from the heart, not from under a heat lamp. It’s the kind of food you form a bond with, even if you do end up eating it in your car. Joy, the Taiwanese place in Highland Park, may be the ultimate version of a fast food spot - it’s a great place for a filling, affordable lunch or dinner, served at a speed that gives any corporate chain a run for its money.
Yes, there’s a grab-your-own drinks case, a deli counter full of cold sides, and occasionally-lackadaisical cashiers. But Joy is also always packed with people gathered around small tables, ordering multiple rounds of sake slushies and sharing steaming bowls of food. They’re here because it’s an easy meal. But that doesn’t mean the meal isn’t also excellent.
Narrowing down your options isn’t easy - the menu is huge, and since everything is under $10, you’ll be tempted to order all of it. And honestly, that’s not a bad plan. There’s a silky mapo tofu with a ton of flavor, a lightly-yet-perfectly spiced minced pork over rice, and rich dan dan noodles with jidori chicken, cucumber, and cilantro. We also love the thousand layer pancake, a savory, crackly flatbread that’s folded-up and loaded with chili sauce, basil, and (for an extra $3) cheese and egg.
No matter what you order, you won’t have to wait long to eat it. At Joy, you will definitely spend more time looking for a table than you will waiting for your food to arrive. And after the first dish hits the table, the food just keeps on coming. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but it’s also impressive - and the food is unlike anything you’d get at a chain restaurant.
So yes, Joy is a fast food spot. A fantastic one. But no matter what you want to call it, after a speedy meal here, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll want to come back for more.
The deli case cold sides change often, and bear absolutely no resemblance to whatever’s cooling in the deli case at Ralph’s. Our favorites are the bamboo shoots, the pig ear salad, and the wood ear mushrooms.
A good litmus test to see if the person you’re going out with is worth another date is the thousand layer pancake - if they don’t like it, delete them from your phone.
We will never come here and not order this. It may just look like some ground pork over rice, but once you try it, you’ll realize how seriously addictive this spiced pork is.
This upgraded version of a pork bun comes on house-baked scallion sesame bread, which is so good that we literally buy it by the loaf (it’s on the menu for $12).
When you get them plain, these are pretty standard dan dan noodles - but add in the jidori chicken, and somehow, it just takes this dish to another peanut-y, sesame-y level.
This isn’t the spiciest mapo tofu around, but it’s some of the best in town. The tofu is the perfect silky consistency, and it packs the kind of pungent punch we like in our mapo.