Freshness is the most important element in New Star’s success, according to owner Jinny Zhao.
That is the way to ensure the best quality and consistent flavors. When she bought the restaurant almost a decade ago, Zhao transformed the kitchen to follow that rule. And it guided her as she turned an underused banquet room into a hibachi steak house.
Tucked in the back of New Star are eight teppan grills, where chefs cook in front of diners. It’s dinner and a show. More than one group of diners sit together around each grill, so it’s best to make reservations if a larger group wants to be seated together.
Japanese steak houses are famous for flaming onion volcanos, acrobatic feats with eggs and even whole bowls of fried rice. While New Star doesn’t disappoint on the stage show, the real draw is the quality.
“Japanese style cooking uses fresh meat, fresh everything and just cooking for you. People love it,” says Zhao.
To keep improving the dining experience, New Star doubles down on freshness by making its own hibachi sauce. Better known as Yum-Yum sauce, the ingredients include fresh apple, fresh peach and tomatoes.
“Even myself, I put some on a bowl of rice, my Yum-Yum sauce, and just eat it. It tastes so good,” says Zhao.
That joy comes through in everything Jinny Zhao does. As she updated the restaurant space and menu, she wanted to attract a new generation of customers looking for even more options.
“I was thinking that the young people, they do love sushi,” says Zhao.
So, she added a sushi bar and an extensive Thai menu. Both of those benefit from the freshest vegetables. None come from a can at New Star. Generous portions are standard too. There is a full bar which features tropical drinks. This expansive take on Asian foodways means that diners at one table can sample many different styles at one meal.
The smallest detail does not go unnoticed by Zhao. She designed the colorful bags covered in sunflowers that await take-out customers in the warmer months. When the weather takes a turn for the chilly, the restaurant switches to a zipped, insulated bag. The investment in high quality take-out bags is worth it to Zhao.
“Chinese foods need to keep warm. If you order in cold weather like Chicago, when you get home, I don’t want it to get cold,” she says.
For dine-in customers there are special touches too. Coloring pages, crayons, and even small toys to keep children occupied while they wait for their adults to be done talking. But it’s the rack of umbrellas that really sets New Star apart when it comes to customer service.
Years ago, when Zhao was on vacation in Taiwan with her children, she was caught in the rain and needed to make a run for it to get to the airport on time. A kindly store owner told her to take an umbrella. She insisted that she couldn’t because she would be unable to return it. Zhao took the umbrella and returned with a lesson in customer service.
“I came back to the United States, thinking, wow, I should do something like that. When older people or people with kids come in, when it’s raining, we say take one and bring it back next time when you visit.”
The location on Elmwood Park’s North Avenue restaurant row creates an atmosphere and advantage for customers that Zhao loves.
“The people you can walk up and down here and say, ‘Hey, I want to eat this. I want to eat that.’ Also, we’ve got a parking lot on the corner.”
The parking lot actually belongs to Zhao. It came with the restaurant when she purchased it, but she shares it with all the restaurants on the row. What is good for the customer is good for New Star, says Zhao.
Zhao, who had previously owned another restaurant, came out of retirement to undertake the challenge of New Star.
She is proud of what she has accomplished, “I am enjoying doing this.”