Shaanxi

Think of the typical Chinese restaurant menu and a few regional cuisines immediately come to mind. Foremost is usually Cantonese food, reflecting the culinary traditions of Hong Kong and southern China with an emphasis on seafood and light sauces of garlic and ginger. Most restaurants will also have some Szechuan dishes characterized by tingly spice, and it’s not uncommon to find representation of Hunan and Mandarin (Beijing) styles. That variety only scratches the surface of China’s diverse foodways, and there are many regions left to explore.

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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.

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Happy Bao’s

Over the past two decades, Mesa’s Asian Business District has grown from a few scattered shops to a busy corridor, and one shopping center, Mekong Plaza, has been at the center of the growth. The former Target store, now an Asian-themed plaza full of restaurants and stores, is now joined by the H Mart across the street, Arizona International Marketplace down the road, and even plans for its own expansion. Even so, Mekong Plaza itself still has plenty of hidden corners to explore. One of them is a tiny restaurant by the food court known as Happy Bao’s.

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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”

Khai Hoan

In diverse communities like Tempe, it’s not uncommon to have restaurants and grocers of entirely different geographic origins coexisting side-by-side in the same shopping center. Khai Hoan, a small Vietnamese restaurant, occupies a small retail plaza with a Mexican carniceria and a Middle Eastern restaurant as its neighbors. The location on the south side of Apache Boulevard is a quarter mile east of the Apache/Dorsey light rail station and Tempe Streetcar stop.

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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”

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 (temporarily closed)

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 (temporarily closed)”

China Chili

Third Street may be the Rodney Dangerfield of Central Phoenix. For many drivers, it’s just a less congested alternative to Central Avenue or Seventh Street. Although it passes by elegant historic districts such as Alvarado and Ashland Place, the street itself gets almost “no respect” because relatively few businesses or institutions lie along its length. One exception is China Chili, which despite an official mailing address on Flower Street, faces Third Street. The restaurant’s Midtown location is about a third of a mile east of the Osborn / Central light rail station. Continue reading “China Chili”

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