HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >


REVIEW: Phoenix, Irvine

We needed supplies. I needed shrimp, and also curry paste and papayas, so it seemed like a trip to 99 Ranch was in order. We also wanted lunch, but we refuse to eat at Ten Ten Seafood near the Anaheim 99 Ranch any more, so we packed up and headed off down the 5 to Culver to eat at Phoenix.

Phoenix, a small local chain, have really two incarnations: the Phoenix Food Boutique, which is a very credible imitation of a Hong Kong "cha chaan teng" (teahouse, which serves small savoury and sweet treats, Hong Kong-style teas, coffees, and junjong, and a few hot dishes), and the Phoenix Restaurant, which, as its name suggests, is a, well, you know, restaurant.

(Note from the editor: the sub-editor responsible for the preceding attack and shakedown on innocent English grammar has been sacked. We apologise for the pornographic number of commas.)

The restaurant, a small space, is in the Heritage Plaza, near the Ralphs at Culver and Walnut.

The menu reads like there are two chefs -- an assortment of Cantonese dishes, and an assortment of Sichuan dishes. (For those of you who are not Chinese food snobs, this means a lot of fruit-based sauces and random animal parts on the one hand, and a lot of spicy and big, bold flavours on the other).

We ordered lunch specials (available even at the weekend, mostly $6.25 and includes rice, tea and egg-flower soup) -- one with lemon chicken (see, sweet fruity sauce = Cantonese) and one with "Szechwan eggplant" (this, of course, was 魚香茄子, or fish-fragrance eggplant, which has absolutely no fish in it -- the flavours in the dish, ginger, garlic and chilies, are usually served with fish).

The egg-flower soup was bog-standard. It tasted like every other egg-flower soup in existence, which is to say, like a hot steaming bowl of nothing. My nearly-1-year-old daughter loved it.

The chicken was excellent -- dipped in some kind of flour that made it very crunchy, which crunchiness stood the test of time while languishing in a very -- VERY -- sticky sweet lemon sauce. The stir-fried lettuce with it (yes, that's right, you read it here first) was delicious with the sauce, but I would have liked the chicken plain. It was extremely well-cooked (which is not to say well-done -- it was actually very juicy and tender).

The winner, however, was the eggplant. A very large portion -- probably two or three whole Chinese eggplants, which are slender but long -- swimming in a very pungent, slightly sweet sauce. I loved it, my wife loved it... but when we fed some of it to the baby, she wanted it so badly that the remainder -- fully a third of what was on the plate -- went to her. She fussed after it was gone, too, so at 99 Ranch I made sure to buy Zhejiang vinegar, shaoxing wine, doubanjian and eggplants so that I can make it for her here at home.

The food was really fresh and well-executed. The only problem is the service. I'm used to Chinese service, but it weirds me out when young (20-something), American-fashion-dressed waiters don't speak English very well in Chinese restaurants. It's not really that big an issue -- either their English will be OK, or we'll get along on my Chinese, but it's just odd. The service was completely peremptory, which is usual, but they acted put out when asked for something, which is NOT usual in "Chinese service". You may get a look now and then, but never the big sigh.

Prices, because we were having lunch specials, were very cheap -- lunch for us came to $16, including a milk tea for my wife.

It's worth mentioning that Phoenix, like almost no other Chinese restaurant, has a large dessert menu, mostly puddings and flans and tapioca. The selection is not as large as the dessert selection at the Phoenix Food Boutique stores, but it does exist and the prices are not very expensive. They do not, sadly, have the mixed-fruit shaved ice dessert that is so good I drive to Rowland Heights to get it. We punted on the dessert anyway, because the 99 Ranch there (as well as the one in Anaheim) has Desir bakery, which has the most confoundingly delicious Macau-style egg tarts in Orange County.

I think it's a "recommend". If you can deal with the lower end of "Chinese service", you'll be rewarded with very well-executed (if slightly sweet -- perhaps next time I will ask them to go easy on the sugar) southern Chinese cuisine.

Phoenix Restaurant
14310 Culver Dr, Irvine, CA

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hi Das Ubergeek,

    Another great review. :) Glad you tried out Phoenix Restaurant in Irvine. I totally agree with you on the sub-par service, but I just chalk it up to "typical" for some Chinese restaurants (I've had worse, and I've had a lot better on average :).

    For Orange County, besides getting a custom meal at Fu Wing Low, Phoenix is the best Southern / Cantonese restaurant around (sans the service). And as you say, their prices are nice as well. Next time you should try their:

    * Rock Cod Fish Fillet over Steamed Tofu - delicious light dish to balance some of the heavier sauce/flavor dishes.

    * Spicy Salt and Pepper Squid (Jiao Yen Hsien Yoh) - This one is a little inconsistent (5 of the 7 times we ordered it, it was great - fried at the right temperature for a great batter, and awesome taste! - the other 2 times was a bit too oily / salty).

    * Crispy Chicken (Zha Zi Ji) - This is the classic HK/Cantonese Chicken that's fried by the cooks pouring hot, searing oil over the chicken multiple times (that one can get at all the typical places like Ocean Star, NBC, Sam Woo, etc.). They do a good job with this one.

    * Phoenix Chicken (I forgot the Chinese name they use) - This is their specialty actually (from their branches in the SGV), it's a Steamed Chicken that they then hand-tear the meat off the bones and marinate it in a special salt and multi-spice-based sauce (really tasty).

    Thanks again.

    1. Good review as usual, and nice to see that la ubergeeklet is developing a chowhound's palate. I'll try to remember this one because every time I visit my mom in Irvine, I struggle to think of places to eat and her usual roster isn't that inspiring.

      1. I've never been but, am interested. Can anyone who has been to Sam Woo further down Culver and or SW Seafood further down Walnut compare?

        1 Reply
        1. re: JAB

          Sam Woo is a Cantonese barbecue with some seafood dishes. Phoenix is like... hm... if the Ladies Who Lunch were Cantonese, they'd go to Phoenix. It's a "stop in and have some tea and some food to go with it" type place, whereas Sam Woo is more like "I want to have some barbecued duck noodles" type place.

        2. great review! we went here when they first opened a couple years ago (with a coupon :) ) and were suitably impressed with the food. The desserts, if I recall correctly, are also a big hit with my sister - they have a yummy mango sweet rice kind of dessert. I'll have to make a trip down there again - thanks!!

          1. Why do you refuse to eat at Ten Ten in Anaheim? I'm looking for dim sum in Orange County and was going to try it. Most of the posts here about dim sum are pretty old.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bossgirl

              Because the service is so rude. Even by "Chinese service" standards. I don't go any more because I know I'll slap the girl at the front desk one of these days. It's unbelievable. The Ten Ten in Cerritos does not have this issue.

              1. re: bossgirl

                I was @ Ten Ten in Anaheim this past weekend. Their dim sum is still solid...especially their sticky rice wrapped in the leaf.

                I usually go w/a large, mixed group and haven't had any major problems. Although they refuse to accept two credit cards to pay a bill (which has never been a problem elsewhere) and it's a bit tough to flag someone down to get the check, but otherwise, service is okay. But we go before noon (11:30) to avoid the wait. We once went for dinner (very good), and their service was much better.

              2. Thanks for the review. I always wondered what kind of food they have. There's one near Din Tai Fung but I think they seem to only do dessert. The one in Rowland Heights must have been opened for at least 1-2 years, but haven't tried. Not big on jello-type desserts.

                3 Replies
                1. re: notmartha

                  They are different.

                  The ones in the Din Tai Fung plaza and Rowland Heights are the "Phoenix Food Boutiques" which specialize in snacks, desserts and some quick plate type dishes, e.g. rice and noodles dishes and some dumplings.

                  The restaurant that Das Ubergeek reviewed is Phoenix Inn Restaurant, which aside from the one in Irvine, is also at Alhambra.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Oh. So entirely different chains? I guess phoenix, along with panda, is kind of common in chinese restaurants. Thanks!

                    1. re: notmartha

                      No, they are related. Phoenix Inn and Phoenix Food Boutique are owned by the same group of investors, but just different concepts -- sort of like Spago and Puck's Cafe.

                2. We tried it out tonight (I wasn't in the mood to grill the rib eyes as planned. I guess because of the weather).

                  No real problems with the service other than getting the check in a timely manner upon being done. The bus person was extremely helpful. For comparison, the service at Chef Chen was way worse.

                  We got kow yuk which was a little salty but, better than Tri-Villages version, fried rice with salty fish and chicken which was as good as other versions that I've had and salty spicy fish fillet which was good but, was battered (wet) where I prefer coated (dry). I like S.W. Seafood's fish fillet with X.O. Sauce better.

                  I'll definately return to explore the menu further.

                  1. Beef Tendon Stew and the Braised Pork Belly are standout dishes at Phoenix Inn.

                    1. My co-worker swears by this place, but I never go. However, my fiance will vouch for those desserts. That's all he ever gets to-go. Perhaps it's time to give them a shot.

                      Thanks for the review.

                      1. Phoenix Restaurant in Irvine (on Culver) is now Closed. :(

                        It's been replaced by something called Royal Kitchen (Thai food) according to 2 different reliable OC Hounds that visit Phoenix every week. So sad.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: exilekiss

                          Not so sad, imho, that particular outpost of the Phoenix chain sucked major balls.

                          1. re: choctastic

                            Hi choctastic,

                            Hehehe... yah I meant sad in terms of Irvine. There aren't that many authentic Chinese restaurants in that area (my Irvine Hounds are always lamenting to me :P).

                          2. re: exilekiss

                            Just to clarify...checked out the posted menu at Royal Kitchen and it is Chinese food,with the standard mix of Mandarin/Cantonese etc

                            1. re: exilekiss

                              Royal Kitchen is Thai? Have your confidential informants tried it yet? I have not.

                              I walked past and looked at the menu, it looked like a generic Cantonese-ish greatest hits of Chinese food.

                              1. re: Professor Salt

                                Thanks stormin norman and Professor Salt. No, they didn't try the new restaurant. One of them mentioned it to me in passing that they "think it's a new Thai place" but they might not've seen the menu.

                                Thanks for the info on the new menu.