Tea Avenue

Tea is a beverage that has been enjoyed in one form or another for thousands of years. Ever since the first leaves were mixed with boiling water in ancient China, tea has become popular around the world, not only in neighboring lands, but also in the European nations that colonized much of Asia. With millennia of tradition behind the drink, it might be tempting to view tea as beholden to immutable tradition. Tea’s heritage is important, but the beverage continues to evolve with new flavors, techniques, and blends served at modern shops like Mesa’s Tea Avenue. Continue reading “Tea Avenue”

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Even before the 2020 pandemic started to make crowded kitchens a source of concern, the restaurant industry, especially the fast food aspect of it, was embracing robotics and automation. At the same time, some places have gone in the opposite direction by stressing a hand-crafted aspect of their food, even in ways that are somewhat silly (e.g. “hand-dipped” ice cream). At Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, the hand-crafted origin of its signature product is authentically and meaningfully reflected in the restaurant’s name and menu. Continue reading “Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House”

Heng’s Kitchen

Almost every mall food court is guaranteed to have one stall serving Chinese food (or an Americanized approximation of it). Often, it’s an outpost of the big chain that is threatening to sue a local enterprise over its name. Sometimes, it’s an independent operation that is locally owned but still adheres to a menu of American Chinese crowd pleasers like General Tso’s chicken and sweet-and-sour pork, all served from steam trays. When a mall specifically caters to a clientele of east Asian ancestry, though, chances are the food court experience will differ. Continue reading “Heng’s Kitchen”

Roll Avenue

Ice cream is one of those foods that has a specific place of origin but has been embraced throughout the world, often with distinct variations for specific countries. The earliest ice cream is thought to have been created in the ancient Persian empire, but the frozen dessert is now consumed on every continent, even in cold environments like Antarctic bases. A much warmer place, Thailand, is responsible for the innovation known as rolled ice cream. Also called stir-fried ice cream, this trend has taken hold in cities like Boston and Los Angeles in recent years. Continue reading “Roll Avenue”

Thai Spices

With a name like “Mekong Plaza,” it would be easy to assume the shopping center in west Mesa is all about Vietnamese retail and dining. The Mekong River is best known for its delta in the southernmost reaches of Vietnam near Saigon, but the reality is that the Mekong River flows through six nations on its way from Tibet to the South China Sea. Among those countries is Thailand, so it should not be surprising to see a little Thai food inside Mekong Plaza. Filling that niche is Thai Spices, which serves exactly the type of food described in its name. Continue reading “Thai Spices”

Hue Gourmet

There’s one sure way to tell when any nation’s cuisine has become mainstream in the United States: It occurs the moment the cognoscenti start differentiating between the cuisines of the country’s various regions. With Italian food, those distinctions have existed for decades. Popular “red sauce” Italian has its roots in immigrant traditions from Sicily and southern Italy, while northern Italian fans might celebrate risotto and osso bucco. The same has happened more recently with Chinese restaurants branching out beyond familiar Cantonese classics. Continue reading “Hue Gourmet”

Wholly Grill

Ask most people in the United States what constitutes Asian food, and they’ll likely begin with the cuisines of China and Japan. More recently, diners have been eager to embrace Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean food, but the cooking of the nearby Philippines has yet to gain much traction beyond those who grew up with it. Maybe it’s the prevalence of tart flavors or the generous use of vinegar in many dishes, but Filipino food remains under-appreciated in much of the United States, despite the half century the Philippines was under American rule. Continue reading “Wholly Grill”

Asian Cafe Express

For the past ten years, the Dobson Road corridor in Mesa and Chandler has been the scene of explosive growth in Asian restaurants and groceries. Most recently, the trend has been toward regional Chinese cooking with the opening of several eateries that specialize in food traditions from corners of China less familiar to American diners. At the same time, several restaurants devoted to Cantonese fare, the style of Chinese food best known in the United States, have closed after decades in central Phoenix, perhaps suggesting that Cantonese food is in decline. Continue reading “Asian Cafe Express”

unPhogettable

In late 2008, an old Target store in west Mesa, approximately a quarter mile from the Sycamore / Main light rail station, was reborn as Mekong Plaza, a shopping center targeting the large southeast Asian community along the Dobson Corridor. In the years since, a lot has changed in the restaurant lineup there. After a few false starts and some turnover in tenants, the food court has settled into a steady, bustling state. There have been at least two iterations each of bakeries, bahn mi shops, and boba tea purveyors within the center’s walls. Continue reading “unPhogettable”

Mekong Palace

Mekong Plaza, the shopping center in west Mesa that caters to shoppers of east Asian heritage, as well as the adventurous of all ethnicities, is so many things at once: a collection of restaurants and food vendor talls, a supermarket and specialty food shops, and a place to get one’s hair cut or nails done. It’s no surprise then that one of its namesake tenants, Mekong Palace, is three (or more restaurants) in one. Located at the north end of the building just beyond the food court, Mekong Palace has several distinct ways for customers to approach its mostly Cantonese food. Continue reading “Mekong Palace”

Deer Garden Signatures

It’s a trend that’s been called “Chipotle-ization,” a type of restaurant service model in which customers proceed through a line telling staff along the way exactly how they’d like their meals made to their specifications. What the Chipotle chain has long done for burritos and tacos, countless new arrivals are now trying to do for pizza and even school lunches. At Mekong Plaza in west Mesa, a restaurant named Deer Garden Signatures (perhaps an awkward translation of a Chinese phrase) might be seen as a sort of Chipotle-ization of Asian noodle soups. Continue reading “Deer Garden Signatures”

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