New Garden

Phoenix’s historic Chinatown, once centered immediately south of the downtown business district, vanished long ago. Its last vestige, a long standing restaurant known as the Sing High Chop Suey House, closed in 2018, and now the region’s biggest cluster of Chinese food is found 15 miles to the east in the Mesa Asian District. Nevertheless, New Garden, a restaurant just half a mile south of the old Chinatown keeps alive the tradition of chow mein, chop suey, and other dishes that formed the basis of classic 20th Century American-Chinese cuisine.

kung pao two and egg roll

New Garden sits at the corner of Central and Hadley, just about halfway between the light rail stations currently under construction at Lincoln and at Buckeye along the South Central extension. It occupies a modest building with salmon-colored block walls and virtually no windows, making it easy to pass by and wonder if the restaurant is even open for business. It is, every day except Wednesday, with an emphasis on takeout indicated by the prominent phone number of the restaurant’s facade, but also with a dining room available for eating on site.

hot and sour soup

The interior is decorated with fans and lanterns with a few pieces of art and numerous pictures of menu items dominating the walls. For those who prefer to dine in, New Garden provides full service. The focus here is squarely on old school Chinese food as it was adapted for American diners beginning over a century ago. That means many familiar items inspired by Cantonese cuisine, a few nods to other regions of China, and a focus on readily available ingredients rather than imported items that were often hard to find during the heyday of the former Chinatown.

beef chow mein

Compared to the bounty now available on Dobson Road, that approach may seem limiting. What matters most, however, is that for customers who prefer a retro Chinese restaurant experience, New Garden leans into that style and executes it effectively. That means big servings of dishes like noodles, fried rice, or egg foo young served either on large plates for sharing or parceled into smaller servings that become combination meals in association with one another or with the addition of one of the appetizers like an egg roll or a cup of soup.

house chop suey

The egg rolls at New Garden take a form sometimes seen at old school restaurants in which the exterior is not so much a crunchy wrapper but instead a puffy batter reminiscent of a corn dog. The vegetable spring rolls, on the other hand, have a more familiar thin, crisp exterior. The hot and sour soup has a nice tang from black vinegar while the egg drop soup is silky and mild. Wonton soup is available in a larger bowl suitable for sharing. Barbecue ribs, pot stickers, chicken wings, cream cheese puffs, wontons, and fried shrimp are among the other appetizers.

house lo mein

Among the entrees, the fully Americanized experience of chop suey, typically a stir fry improvised from ingredients available to Chinese immigrants, might be a good place to start. Different meats are available, or the house option is a mix of chicken, pork, and shrimp. In any case, the vegetables involved are always bean sprouts, celery, and white onions in a clear sauce. Chow mein uses a similar approach but with crunchy noodles instead of rice. Staff always check customers’ noodle preferences to avoid confusion with the soft lo mein dishes.

Mongolian beef

These dishes, although not much like the food one is likely to encounter in China or even more recently established Chinese communities in America, are capable versions of classics best appreciated on their own terms. Likewise, dishes like the kung pao two, a mixture of shrimp and chicken with peanuts, celery, and bell peppers in a slightly spicy sauce, showcase the kitchen’s strength in traditional American-Chinese cooking. Mongolian beef, which involves tender slices of meat stir-fried with onions, peppers, and chilies. is probably the spiciest item on the menu.

Chinese greens chicken

It’s not that common for New Garden to venture deeper into Chinese cooking, but it does so successfully with Chinese greens chicken, a simple Cantonese-style dish incorporating poultry and copious stalks and leaves of bok choy in a sauce redolent of garlic and ginger. New Garden does not have a liquor license and dessert is limited to the fortune cookies available with each meal. It’s a focused and deliberately old-fashioned approach that recalls the classic Chinatown experience long after the disappearance of Phoenix’s traditional Chinatown neighborhood.

823 S. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
Lincoln / 1st Avenue (eastbound) and Lincoln / Central (westbound) stations (under construction)
Buckeye/Central Station (under construction)

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