December 6, 2014 update: Kong Fu Gyoza has been replaced by Heng’s Kitchen
Most mall food courts have certain predictable niches: a shop full of cinnamon buns emanating a signature scent, a pizza-by-the-slice operation with numerous pies under heat lamps, and a generic American Chinese place with stir fry entrees made ahead. At Mekong Plaza in west Mesa, the casual dining area at the north end of the building has its own specialties, including Filipino and regional Vietnamese. Its new Chinese eatery, Kong Fu Gyoza, isn’t about orange chicken or sweet-and-sour anything. Instead, Kong Fu defines its own niche of dumplings, noodles, and meat pies.
|beef stew noodle soup|
The location is a stall that has long been vacant, and with Kong Fu Gyoza’s arrival, the food court is now fully occupied for the first time since an old Target Store was reborn as Mekong Plaza in 2008. The shopping center is a short walk from the Sycamore / Main light rail station. For bicyclists, there are two racks on the east side of the building that are almost always full. A third one is more secluded on the north side and almost always has space available. A poster advertising Kong Fu Gyoza with an abbreviated menu hangs above best entrance to use in reaching the food court
|view from the food court|
Think of Kong Fu Gyoza as Chinese street food. There are no elaborate multi-course banquets to be had here, but it’s easy to fill up for $10 or less per person with food designed to be eaten by hand or from a bowl. There are printed menus at the counter and pictures of entrees on signs all around the counter. There are a few familiar items from the work such as fried rice and teriyaki chicken, but for the most part the food here is steamed or boiled and then maybe finished with a little pan frying to create some crispness and char to contrast with otherwise chewy and pliant textures.
The best place to start is with the namesake dish, gyoza, one of many clumsy transliterations of something known more exactingly as “jiaozi.” Of course, if you don’t call them gyoza, you may know them as dumplings, pot stickers, or even Peking ravioli. Regardless of what they’re called, they take the form of dough wrapped around a filling of ground meat and minced vegetables. The dough is then crimped at the edges to seal the contents inside, and the assembled dumpling is boiled and possible pan fried depending on customer preference. The gyoza come a dozen to an order.
Among the fillings, pork or chicken combined with vegetables are obvious choices. The combination gyoza introduce more variety by adding leeks, shrimp, and more to the interior. With any of these choices, the dumplings will arrive at the table with two sauces. One is a combination of soy sauce and dark vinegar; the other is a house-made version of the ubiquitous red chili garlic sauce. Dip the gyoza in either or both to boost the flavor of the mild fillings and dough. The menu also lists “pot stickers,” not synonymous with gyoza here, but instead larger pork dumplings served six to an order.
Although anything purchased at Kong Fu Gyoza can be packaged to go, the gyoza are sold frozen in big bags of 40 for $10 to prepare at home, an impressive value compared to those found in grocery freezer cases at a higher price per unit and usually without the same level of quality. The staff recommend boiling the dumplings for 10 minutes before finishing them in a pan with a bit of oil. To help ensure the gyoza arrive home in good shape even in triple digit temperatures, they’re packaged with a bag of ice; however, bringing a cooler along is never a bad idea.
|hot and sour bean threads|
Moving beyond the signature dumplings here, the next stop in exploring Kong Fu Gyoza is the xianbing, a shareable hand food that takes the form of a disc-shaped meat pie divided into half a dozen slices. The xianbing all begin with an exterior that is chewy in places and crisp in others. Inside, the beef and “pork artist” versions are stuffed with ground, seasoned meat. The meatless version is made with leeks and eggs, and the simplest option is a green onion pancake in which chopped scallions are not a distinct filling but are instead scattered throughout the dough.
|vegetable noodle soup|
Speaking of dough, the house-made wheat noodles are another highlight here. They’ve got a fresh, resilient texture that makes its presence known without competing with anything else in the numerous soups in which the noodles appear. The beef stew noodle soup begins with a hefty, resonant broth augmented with sliced scallions and sesame seeds. The bowl is full of semi-flat, narrow noodles; abundant Chinese greens; and pieces of beef with good flavor but also more fat and gristle than some diners may be used to. A vegetable soup with a clear broth is an unthreatening alternative.
Another meatless soup, the hot-and-sour bean threads, uses a different type of noodle (not made on the premises, but still appealing) in a lively mix of spice and tartness with added crunch and flavor from whole peanuts. Despite its name, this soup is not overwhelmingly hot or sour, but cilantro is a powerful influence on its flavor. For a dry noodle dish, try the dandan noodles. In the absence of a broth, the chewy, springy house noodles are the star here with scallions and ground pork playing vital supporting roles. This dish is a little spicy as-is but even better with the restaurant’s hot chili oil.
There’s no dessert or alcohol on the menu, but the soy milk, also made in the restaurant’s own kitchen, offers a sweet, creamy way to suppress any lingering fire from the spicier dishes. Side dishes here are simple preparations of vegetables. The cucumber salad is fresh, briny, and judiciously flavored with garlic and salt. The potatoes are lightly stir-fried and then boosted with a bit of vinegar and chile heat. As one customer observed, “This is the potato salad everyone should bring to picnics.” Likewise, Kong Fu Gyoza is the Chinese food stall every food court should have.
66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa AZ 85202