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Why are all the Chinese restaurants in Central Phoenix a bad facsimile of Panda Express?

Are there no real, authentic Chinese restaurants in central Phoenix?

China Chili provides decent fare, but only if you were living under a rock for the past 30 years. Everything seems as if it's "kung pao this" or "sesame that" or that sickly and gooey "orange chicken" and it's evil cousin, the "sweet and sour pork". This was voted Phoenix's best Chinese restaurant? The ever authentic Chinese chicken salad must've put it over the top ...

I asked our server at China Chili if they had Chinese pea shoots (or do miou), and was told no. Best he could do was Chinese broccoli (or gai lan), which turned out to be the most flaccid vegetable I've had since visiting a friend at the a nursing home cafeteria.

Then there's Prime. What gives here? What self-respecting sit-down Chinese restaurant serves egg rolls? Would a real trattoria be caught serving Chef Boyardee? And how can it have chicken satay? Chicken satay??? That's like a Mexican restaurant serving empanada. Same area of the globe does not mean same type of cuisine.

Granted I'm new to the Phoenix area, but there's got to be better than these two right?

Please prove me wrong.

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  1. With such an upbeat attitude pervading your post, I'm at a loss to understand your discontent. Seriously, though, you can get snow pea shoots at Super Dragon at 12th and Northern. They're not listed on the menu but almost always available by request. Of course, Super D also serves egg rolls, which I am not ashamed to say I enjoy, so you might find a reason not to like that restaurant as well.

    Super Dragon Restaurant
    1212 E Northern Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85020

    1. Definitely sounds like you're looking for authentic Chinese. I can certainly vouch for Diamond's, the chow there is incredible. Get your hands on the pink Chinese menu. If they don't immediately give it to you, go grab one from the server stand while they aren't looking Definitely get the lobster special, you'll be very glad you did.

      Diamond's Chinese Restaurant
      4402 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013

      3 Replies
      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        Diamond's is the real deal.
        I'm happy with my old time favorite Super Dragon, and they'll even do hot pot on winter weekends with advance reservations.

        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

          I''ll have to try Diamond. Thanks for the heads-up.

          Anything other than the Lobster you would recommend?

          1. re: ipsedixit

            don't get me wrong, most of phx chinese is dreck, and at first, we thought diamonds was a find. like most, we ignored the small cleanliness issues, and the slight smell upon arrival. the food made it worthwhile...

            but we had two highly disappointing visits, the first in which our order (the specials, at that) came out completely and totally wrong, and having taken 45 minutes. the second in which the food was just... bad, for lack of a better word, and the stench was just a wee bit too much. we wrote off diamonds.

            i could be wooed back, easily. specially now that silver dragon is gone. that said, i give high marks to super dragon, great wall, and c-fu for chinese. problem is.... if you're used to NY chinese, you're gonna be outta luck. there ain't no place in town doing chow mein or asian raviolis the way you're used to. and let us not speak of the egg rolls.

            i admit, i have yet to hit china chili or prime... china chili's menu seemed to be fairly inauthentic, so I've never bothered.... prime looks good and i've just never gotten the chance.

            remember the good ol days of mambo and china doll? i'd give atleast one of my limbs for a mambo minced squab dish.

            sorry, dude.

        2. I used to rave about China Chili when I first found out about it a few years ago - they even had pea shoots back in the day when I asked about them (while they were on Central). In recent years though, I have come to the same conclusion as you regarding the sticky sauces and heavily battered fried entrees.
          Gourmet House of Hong Kong used to be good, depending on what you order. Their menu is pretty expansive, so if you try that route, I suggest you get something popular that sells to ensure its freshness. A few of the times that I have gotten food there, it has been less than fresh and it's been a couple years since I've stepped foot in the place because of that.
          For dinner entrees, Golden Buddha on 44th Street at 202 is decent. The entrees are a few dollars more than other places, but worth it in my opinion - better than average. The dim sum is not great though.
          I live in Encanto, but usually make the 25 mile drive all the way out to China King at Alma School and Ray Road in Chandler. The dim sum is very good and the entrees are equally well prepared. I only wish that it was closer to my house.

          Golden Buddha
          668 N 44th St, Phoenix, AZ 85008

          China King Buffet
          1050 W Ray Rd, Chandler, AZ 85224

          Gourmet House of Hong Kong
          1438 E McDowell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85006

          1. hi there,

            why the egg roll hatery? i don't think i saw a chinese restaurant in the bay area that didn't serve one.

            and not everything at china chili is all kung pao-like..i'm partial to there spicy eggplant. good times :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: winedubar

              No egg roll hatery.

              Just looking for authentic Chinese chow ... and if I really was hankering for an egg roll, well, then, I'd probably be better off at a place like Panda Express.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                The first egg rolls I actually liked were from a little restaurant in Chinatown in Boston. It was definitely an authentic place. :) I've yet to find an egg roll as good as that one was. Big as my fist and ultra-fresh. I agree that it's hard to find good authentic Chinese around here ( I for one DESPISE all the buffet-only places) but you can find it. You just can't expect stuff that will be quite the equal of cities with actual Chinatowns, like NYC, Boston, SF, or Montreal. There most definitely is good stuff to be had, though.

            2. I like Szechuan Palace (at the Chinese Cultual Center). Make sure you ask for the Chinese menu.

              Another good one (not in Central Phoenix, but not that far away) is Nee House.

              Nee House
              13843 N Tatum Blvd Ste 17, Phoenix, AZ 85032

              Szechwan Palace
              668 N 44th St, Phoenix, AZ 85008

              2 Replies
              1. re: andyeats


                Yes, I have indeed been to Nee House and it is probably the closest thing Phoenix has to authentic and good Chinese grub, but is Nee House really in or around Central Phoenix? Excuse the dumb geography question, but I'm new to the area.

                As to the food at Nee House, I think they do a fine job on the fresh seafood, esp if you order off the menu. I spoke with one of the managers and asked why (and how?) they were able to open an authentic Chinese restaurant in northern Phoenix/Scottsdale area, when the critical mass of their potential customers were probably further south in Chandler (or Mesa).

                He just smiled and said (loosely translating here) ... sometimes the first in line gets all the goodies. Indeed.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Considering how large the Phoenix metro area is (as I'm sure you will soon find out)...Nee House isn't that far.

              2. Without more information on when you ate at the varying restaurants listed, I'm not sure what to make of your post. A lot of the Asian restaurants serve lunch-only menus designed for speed, and the business-person's palette. When Tamara and I went to the new Thai restaurant on Thomas, near 7th ave, I was disappointed to find that we were limited to pad thai derivatives. I really wanted a Tom Kha-style soup. But, the menu planners decided that business people on their lunch break really wanted pad thai and not the more ethnic Thai dishes.

                China Chili operates in much the same way. I do find their lunch menu heavy on fried dishes and thick sauces, but have found that they're willing to alter the dishes for individual tastes. It doesnt hurt to ask - especially if they know you're a big tipper or a regular.

                Other than that, when my friend Mi Young and I first moved to the valley, I had to listen to endless tirades about the lack of good Korean food and how gaijin tastes were ruining everything. But, as the Korean community expanded, more authentic Korean businesses and restaurants moved in. Of course, I'm sure some of them have a gaijin-lite menu, too. As some other posters mentioned, niche restaurants do not always fare well. A restaurant that can diversify and serve chowhound-worthy food is one that's successful.


                On that note, I'm still waiting for the perfect Jewish-Chicago deli that corns their own beef. None of that Boars Head bollocks.

                3 Replies
                1. re: jhenner

                  here here, jhenner..

                  have you tried katz deli? it's my stand by when i get my jewish deli jones in central phoenix.

                  1. re: winedubar

                    No, I haven't. But it's on my list-to-eat now, right after Matt's Big Breakfast. I love working in Central Phoenix.

                    Do they corn their own beef?

                    1. re: jhenner

                      i love cenpho too...loads of good places to eat around here :D

                      unfortunately they don't corn their own beef..i just called :(

                      here's a link to some info when the won the new times best jewish del in '06


                2. How about Lee Lee in south Gilbert?

                  1 Reply
                  1. We like Great Wall (not part of the buffet chain of the same name) at 35th Ave. and Camelback. It has a very extensive menu and a large Asian clientele. It was closed for about six months last year and since reopening we have found that some of our favorite dishes are not quite the same, since they apparently have a new chef, but it's still our best source in the Central/West part of town.

                    Personally, I'm with you on the egg rolls.

                    Great Wall Cuisine
                    3446 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85017

                    1. i've been in the area for 3 years now..so far my favorite is Tao Garden in chandler. I always enjoy thier steamed tilapia with ginger/scallion. I have yet to try Diamonds but hear rave reviews from the board and a few office folks

                      1. Without a substantial Chinese population it seems unlikely that there will ever be any authentic Chinese restaurants in Phoenix. Most places gear their food to American tastes, or what the chefs and owner perceive to be what their clientele demands.
                        I live most of the year in Toronto which has a huge Chinese population, and the Chinese food here is comparable to the food in Hong Kong. The same applies to Vancouver, which I visit frequently.
                        I had dim sum last week at C-Fu Gourmet which gets fairly favorable reviews, but it was, at best, passable.
                        I had wanted to try Jade Buddha, but it has received a lot of negative comments lately.
                        I am open to suggestions.
                        After lunch there, we went to Lee Lee supermarket. It was awesome! It is about a 40 minute drive from our house, but it is definitely worth the trip.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: neville nosher

                          As far as Hong Kong style chinese food goes, Nee House is the best in the valley and worth the drive. Other than that, you have to drive to Monterey for good Chinese food. Several things to do to get the best dining experience: talk to the owner for what is fresh and recommend the dinner menu for you. In order to do that, you need to show up early so you and the owner can spend time to see what you like or don't like. If you feel especially spendy and opt to go for the shark fin soup, be sure to order it at least four days ahead so he can get the ingredients for you. If you're not used to authentic Hong Kong style cuisine (fish and shrimp served with the head intact), keep an open mind and wallet. The food is great and don't expect the bill to be similar to those other imposters, it is worth every penny, plus it is still considerably cheaper than LA.

                        2. I haven't been there in a while but Ming's Pagoda used to have really good Chinese food. It looks kind of run down from the outside but the food was delicious, and relatively cheap.

                          Ming's Pagoda Restaurant
                          12019 N 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85029

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: aaronling

                            Oh! I love the Prime. And as for missing China Doll, it went downhill so badly at the end, I don't miss it at all. As far as menu items go, I figure they always have some non-threatening items, like those nasty "crab" devil things with the fried wonton and cream cheese, for the non-Chinese loving spouse so the other partner can occaisionally partake.