Mired in a dining malaise? The Valley’s lone Malaysian restaurant may have the antidote.
From Broadway Road in Tempe, it’s easy to read the signage: “BP Street Café” in bold letters against the strip mall’s façade. Sounds like a generic sandwich shop or coffeehouse, maybe even the snack bar at a British Petroleum gas station. Unless you have better eyes than mine, it’s only when you get closer that you notice, in pale greenish-blue letters below, the words “Malaysian Cuisine.”
Spilling from a dangling peninsula in Southeast Asia across the South China Sea onto a chunk of northern Borneo, Malaysia is populous, economically important and ethnically diverse, but its cuisine never achieved viral popularity in America the way, say, Thai food did. What is Malaysian cuisine, exactly? A big-screen TV in the airy, pleasant dining room – decorated with posters of Malaysia’s exotic sights, and a statue of a proboscis monkey that gazes morosely down at guests – is glad you asked. It plays a looped video explaining that the region has been part of the Asiatic trade routes for many centuries, so the food carries both Chinese and Indian influences. Then it shows us a series of mouth-watering examples.
The featured appetizer is roti canai, a pancake served with a curry-based dipping sauce. Both the flapjack and the sauce are light and delicate, and pair deliciously. Skip the BP Platter, an offering of egg rolls, chicken wings, fish balls and foil-wrapped chicken that’s food-court routine.
I asked the friendly and helpful server for a couple of the more characteristic Malaysian dishes from the entree selection, and his suggestions were both highlights. The nasi lemak consisted of strips of fried chicken alongside a mound of fluffy white rice with onions and cloves, with a hard-boiled egg – a motif in many of the dishes – and slices of cucumber. The presentation of these ingredients is simple and plain; the unifying factor is a sambal sauce of chiles and anchovies that gave the dish a fierce yet refreshing sting.
Just as bracing, from the noodle side of the menu, was laksa, a soup of curry-ish orange broth ladled over egg or rice noodles (egg for me), with chicken, shrimp, tofu, sprouts and scrumptious scallops. Char kway teow, flat noodles with shrimp in a brown sauce, was a milder but equally tasty option.
Less successful, for me, was mee Siam – the same juicy chunks of fried chicken as in nasi lemak, but paired here with thin, dry and unappetizingly al dente rice noodles. From the more standard Chinese-restaurant playbook came a serviceable ginger chicken, while the sweet and sour chicken, in many places a cloying vulgarity, was surprisingly vibrant and zingy here.
Also on the menu are various festive drinks, notably bandung, roughly the color and sweetness of Strawberry Quik, but infused, much like boba, with bits of chewy, candy-like beans. Even better is the tea tarik, a sweet concoction of tea and milk, served hot or cold. I took it cold, to calm down the Malaysian heat.
BP Street Cafe
Contact: 1845 E. Broadway Rd., Tempe, 480-268-7331, bpstreetcafe.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. M-Sa
Highlights: Nasi lemak ($7); laksa ($7.50); char kway teow ($7.50); roti canai ($2.50); mee Siam ($7); sweet and sour chicken ($7); bandung drink ($2.50); tea tarik ($2)
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