You’d never think to look at the outside of South Garden Chinese Restaurant that good things lie in store inside. The nondescript restaurant in a distressed strip mall along Fredericksburg Road is more forbidding than inviting. Yet the number of cars outside during lunch should convince you that this is a place where many have not judged it by its cover.
Inside, the dining room is warm with nice splashes of color and Asian touches that are minimal yet well-chosen. The staff is friendly, adding to a feeling of really being welcome.
Though friendly, the staff is also at varying degrees of efficiency, as we soon found out. It seems we had a pair of servers waiting on our table and offering a bit of a Mutt-and-Jeff experience. One would go off to ask someone for an answer to every little question while the other, following quickly on the first man’s heels, made everything we wanted happen. We’ll gladly take the latter, thank you.
And we’ll gladly take another cup of the hot and sour soup, which had a medium broth with plenty of spice and sourness without being overly gelatinous, as you’ll find all too often elsewhere. It came with the lunch special and was a better starter than a plate of spring rolls we tried that had a perfectly hot, crispy exterior and yet had cabbage at the center that tasted somewhat old and slightly cold.
Moo Shu Pork ($8.95), not on the lunch menu but available any time, was near perfect. The cabbage this time had been sautéed to the point of being soft and crunchy, exuding a natural sweetness that completmented the strips of pork. (At South Garden, the servers do not roll up the stir-fry into the pancakes, which we prefer. )
A lunch combination plate ($6.75 lunch/$8.50 dinner) of fried pollock and pork with green beans showed some of the shortcomings of South Garden. The fish was obviously processed elsewhere, a rectangular shape not found in nature, breaded and fried to a deep golden brown. It came with packets of tarter sauce and seems to be the default item on the menu for those who don’t like Chinese. It had decent flavor, but it’s more of what I’d order at a McDonald’s than a Chinese restaurant.
On the other hand, the pork with green beans was just right, with just enough sauce to let the meat and vegetable flavors emerge without being swamped. Like the soup, the sauce was not overly thick and tasted more of soy, ginger and garlic than cornstarch.
An egg roll that came with the lunch special was full of Asian five-spice. It was a triffle soggy but that didn’t matter when hit with a dose of nostril-clearing hot mustard. Pork fried rice was a bit skimpy on the pork, yet had a good flavor.
If I were driving down Fredericksburg Road and wanted something besides the sea of taquerias that line both sides, South Garden would definitely draw me back.
South Garden Chinese Restaurant
3909 Fredericksburg Road
Lunch: Monday-Saturday. Dinner: Daily.