When I was growing up, one of my sisters worked as a hostess in the Chinese restaurant up the street from our house. It was an entrance for me into the then-exotic world of shark fin’s soup, shrimp with lobster sauce, egg foo yong and that favorite of all in need of a sugar fix, sweet and sour pork.
I still crave Chinese food on a regular basis, and when I do, I head for Phoenix Chinese Cafe at the corner of West Avenue and Blanco Road.
There, I can find a host of options, ranging from beef stir-fried with mango and celery to salt-toasted pork ribs. The latter is from the restaurant’s authentic Chinese menu, one of four that the restaurant offers.
The main menu features Chinese-American favorites, such as the ever-reliable twice-cooked pork and the steaming hot egg foo yong. There’s also a dim sum menu with the dishes made fresh to order (only the carts and the baskets are missing). Finally, there’s a lengthy list of specials at the front of the restaurant, with the dishes mentioned in Chinese and English.
A few dishes appear on several lists. But while the names are the same, the preparations are not. The authentic Chinese wonton soup is spicier than the American version. The same is true of the walnut chicken (spicy in the authentic version, sweet and sticky in the Chinese-American).
I have ordered off all four menus and have rarely found anything less than pleasant. I will say some of the dishes might appeal to only a limited audience. Just the mention of turnip cakes from the dim sum list, for example, made a few friends blanch on a recent visit. Their loss.
Though I’ve been to the restaurant now dozens of times, I found myself drawn to something new on my last dinner: Phoenix Chicken. The half-chicken was roasted until the skin was as crispy as you’ll find on the Peking duck (always available and always a treat). The meat was moist and dipped in a soy sauce that kept me reaching for more.
It was pure comfort food, made all the more perfect with a small order of garlicky pea shoots on the side.
The folks at Phoenix allow you to bring in your own wine. If you are doing that, though, you should also bring your own ice bucket and glasses. What wines go with Chinese food, you ask. Off-dry rieslings, fruity sauvignon blancs and sparkling wines are all versatile enough to match the layers of flavors in the food. Even an oaky chardonnay will sometimes work. Syrah and pinot noir have been good companions with the Peking duck. An icy lager has also been known to work its magic.
Phoenix Chinese Cafe
11821 West Ave.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.