Celebrate the Year of the Rooster with these neighborhood Chinese eateries.

Cock of the Wok

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2017
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East Valley
Chou’s Kitchen
Happy New Year! Also, Happy Chinese New Year, which rings in on January 28. To celebrate the Year of the Rooster, how about some good, old-fashioned, inexpensive neighborhood Chinese grub? This year-old Tempe offshoot of a long-time Chandler favorite specializing in “Authentic Northeastern Chinese Cuisine” – or Shandong cuisine, if you want to get geographical – is bright, friendly and perfect for hashtagging college diners. The menu is catalog-massive, ranging from Chinese-American standards like tangy orange chicken ($8) and savory stir-fried eggplant and pork in garlic sauce ($9) to rarities like a clay pot brew of chewy pig intestine in tempestuously spicy pickled veggies and tofu ($12). Start with handmade apps like the excellent steamed pork dumplings ($9), or the mackerel dumplings ($9) for a fishy twist.
Must try: Fishier still is the succulent Seafood Flour Ball Soup ($6), pairing big shrimp and other briny delights with bready flour bits, like tiny Asian matzo balls. It’s a meal by itself.
1250 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-557-8888
Scottsdale
Yummy Yummy Chinese
Starting with the name, the hyperbole never stops at this South Scottsdale lunch stop. It’s a quintessential, reliable Chinese carry-out joint, with harried servers wrangling phone orders and a few booths grudgingly maintained amidst the stacked cartons of fortune cookies and sauce packets. Yet it’s here you can order Chicken Amazing ($9.99): bird and veggies stir-fried in a reddish, mildly spicy sauce in which I thought I detected a pleasant hint of tomato. I’m not sure it quite amazed me, but I guess Chicken Pretty Darned Good doesn’t pack the same punch. It’s also available as one of the many lunch specials ($6.99), accompanied by fried or white rice, and a choice of the wonton or egg drop soup (the wonton is amaz… I mean, really good), or (not and) an egg roll or (not and) a soda.
Must try: The Dragon & Phoenix ($14.99) pairs shrimp in chili sauce with General Tso’s chicken in – according to the menu – “perfect balance of separation.” Not sure what that means, but the food’s good.
2765 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-946-8881, yummyyummyaz.com
 
West Valley
Star Wok 2
The name sounds like a sci-fi sequel, but the food is pretty down to earth, with a dining room that’s generic in its décor except for a couple of autographed pictures of ‘60s-era Washington Senators catcher Ken Retzer, reportedly a customer. (He’s with JFK in one of them!) The menu offers all the standards, and all are well-executed: crunchy crab puffs ($3.25 for a small), cooling spring rolls ($2.50) and consoling, toast-toned egg fried rice ($6.25 and up). They also do a fair Kung Pao chicken ($5.45 and up) – though not the classic minimalist version of that noble peanuts-and-peppers dish; this one is Americanized with an apparent Star Wok 2 favorite: zucchini. Notable among the appetizers is the Sizzling Rice Soup ($5.75), a concoction of fine white meat chicken and shrimp and tasty sliced mushrooms and zucchini with crispy rice add-ins. It’s delicious despite a slightly off-putting pungency.
Must try: Don’t miss the various moo shus ($7.95 for pork or chicken, a buck more for shrimp). The sweet hoisin sauce is divine.
7420 W. Cactus Rd., Peoria, 623-776-3240
Phoenix
Liyuen Chinese Food
Chinese chow doesn’t come more no-frills than this. You order, pay – cash only, please – and get your food through a small barred window in a careworn building on a careworn corner. Yet there’s a reason people are always milling around: It has the best, most homemade-tasting food I sampled on this tour. Worthwhile starters include juicy, plump jalapeño chicken wings ($4.99) and fried shrimp ($5.99) in a corn dog-thick batter. The Mongolian chicken ($5.99) in a spicy but not overwhelming sauce of hoisin and scallions is outstanding, but better still is the shrimp chow fun ($8.55) – thin, slightly al dente fried rice noodles loaded with crustaceans, veggies and egg. The only misfortune was the beef chop suey ($5.85 as a lunch special), suffering from bland sauce, mushy vegetables and spiritless beef. Case in point why the dish, once nearly synonymous with “Chinese food,” has become passé.
Must try: Admirably adaptable, Liyuen also offers a few Yankee and Mexican favorites, including the Sloppy Bag ($2.75 for a small) – taco meat, lettuce, cheese, tomato and optional hot sauce dropped right into a bag of Doritos, and eaten out of it with a plastic fork. Sounds disgusting, looks undignified, tastes great.
1602 S. Seventh Ave., 602-238-9688
 

 

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