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Oct 17, 2009 05:06 PM

Seeking life changing Chinese food like House of Nanking (PHX)

Hubby and I just returned from a weekend in San Fran, where a friend took us to House of Nanking. It was the best Chinese food we have ever had, period. Wondering if any AZ chowhound readers have been, and experience anything similar in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area?


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  1. Try PF Chang's.

    About 20 years ago, House of Nanking served true authentic regional Chinese food (when it was still a true mom-and-pop operation).

    Now? It's become the Guy Fieri of Chinese restaurants -- all show and talk, no substance.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Lighten up, Francis. :)

      I agree the House of Nanking used to be better than it is since they expanded, but it is still wonderful stuff. I lived in Beijing & Nanjing for 8 months years ago that's about the only placed I've found since returning that reminds me of real chinese food.
      The key to the place is to order well...some things are a lot better than others.

      At any rate, to answer the question, as others have done, NO there isn't anything like HNK in the phoenix area that I've been able to find. It's all pandering to the suburban masses with sickenly sweet, unspicy stir fries with water chestnuts in it. (rolleyes)

      One of the more authentic places I've found is Asia Cafe Express in Mesa. Nothing like the house of Nanking in style but at least it seemed somewhat more authentic that most in the Phx area.

      1. re: dombey

        Yeah, Asian Cafe Express is pretty good in the authenticity department. But again, you have to order correctly (i.e., off-menu).

        Asian Cafe Express
        1911 W Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201

    2. Without knowing what exactly you liked about House of Nanking, it's hard to say what would deliver the same experience. I've had food just as good at places like China Chili and Big Wong (RIP), minus the long lines, elbow to elbow crowding, and sweatshop atmosphere. The people who owned China Chili back in the day sold it and moved on to Ahwatukee to set up Mr. Chao's Asia Bistro. I've never been to their new place, but it might be worth checking out, depending on where you're located.

      China Chili
      302 E Flower St, Phoenix, AZ 85012

      Mr Chao's Asia Bistro
      4232 E Chandler Blvd Ste 4, Phoenix, AZ 85048

      1. I lived at Turk and Masonic for years and loved House of Nanking. You will not find anything like that out here. Nor will you find anything like Eric's or Eliza's, etc. Thai and Vietnamese are solid in the Greater Phx area, Chinese, on the other hand, is hit or miss at best.

        14 Replies
        1. re: danieli10

          Its not easy.

          Recently we tried Jade Palace on Shea from a chowhound rec. we had tried the hayden location and been underwhelmed but this was worse. I always order chicken fried rice as my 3 year old likes it, it was borderline inedible.

          We were in LA this week. So refreshing to get some ok chinese food. Its actually the first food I think of when flying out of sky harbor, unless I am flying to England then its Indian :)

          1. re: Mattoclock

            try the Great Wall on 35th ave and camelback. If you want something authentic, look and see what the next table is eating and order it if it looks unfamilar. Been pretty happy with that place for years.

            1. re: cruisemo

              Thanks for the rec, the only downside is that is is a hike from where I live or work.

              1. re: cruisemo

                I'll give that a go.

                I'm also hoping to try the Golden Buddha in the cultural center when I get a chance.

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

                1. re: Mattoclock

                  I'm still a huge fan of Nee House on Tatum and T-bird. Ask for the Chinese menu...or see what everyone is eating! Great Seafood...lobster, clams, oyster...greens.....
                  I am also a fan of their peking duck...if you order it, ask for a large table. It's served on 3 platters!

                  1. re: ciaogal

                    " Ask for the Chinese menu"

                    That's a big problem with many Chinese restaurants, even the good ones. They give the gringos the menu with the greasy crap - the fried rice and egg rolls and all, but the good stuff is on the secret Chinese menu.

                    1. re: justjoe

                      justjoe, you may be the exception (or in the minority), but most "gringos" really wouldn't care for what's usually on the Chinese menu.

                      How many "gringos" would order fish maw? Or duck tongue? Chicken knees? Sea cucumbers? Or even sometime more pedestrian like asparagus with diced conpoy?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        "but most "gringos" really wouldn't care for what's usually on the Chinese menu."

                        IP - I bet most Chowhound "gringos" would. That is obsolete thinking that goes back many years, before westerners were familiar with Asian cuisine. You can see how many disparaging comments there are about Chinese restaurants in general, and that's because they've become associated with the "greasy crap". I don't believe Vietnamese restaurants ever play that game, and their popularity is soaring in America.

                        1. re: justjoe

                          Trust me, Vietnamese restaurants *do* play that game.

                          Most of the pho you get is watered down, the 7 courses of beef that you see on some menus (if you're lucky) have been denuded of the interesting accoutrements like betal leaves or the spices for beef balls, and rarely will you find Chao Bo to finish off the 7 courses.

                          Not saying that Chowhound "gringos" wouldn't go for the authentic stuff -- just saying that the Chowhound "gringos" are in the minority and for an ethnic restaurant to surivive it has to pander to the masses, not the discerning palate of the 'Hound.

                          1. re: justjoe

                            Not only do Vietnamese water down their food for non-Asian tastes, but they also give their restaurants "cute" (read, silly) names when located outside of Vietnamese neighborhoods.

                            1. re: Chandavkl

                              I meant that Viet restaurants don't have separate menus, one for gringos and one with the good stuff just for Vietnamese people. I stay away from places with smart ass names, like "What The Pho?" (yes, there's a slew of them with that name), and if I encounter a Viet restaurant that is serving the gringos different food - like watered down pho - I would either say something or never go back again or both, but I never have, though I have in some Korean restaurants,at least I think I have, but then I'm paranoid to begin with!

                              1. re: justjoe

                                Actually the separate menu concept is an interesting phenomenon. You seldom see separate Chinese menus at Chinese restaurants in California. You do see them at most Phoenix area Chinese restaurants that are capable of preparing "authentic" Chinese food. Separate menus indicate both a mixed Chinese and non-Chinese clientele, and an aggregately low level of sophistication among the non-Chinese diners. Not to say that none of the non-Chinese diners would appreciate the authentic stuff, but the bulk of them are looking for broccoli beef and kung pao chicken. In contrast, in the L.A. and S.F. areas, there's no need for the two menu system as the non-Chinese diners who do come to the authentic Chinese restaurants are usually seeking out such fare.

                                1. re: justjoe

                                  Maxim and Khai Hoan both have an in-house, informal separate Vietnamese menu.

                                  Khai Hoan
                                  1537 E Apache Blvd, Tempe, AZ 85281

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Maxim is billed as Chinese-Vietnamese or pan-Asian or something. What would the other place be afraid of, the gringos seeing congealed blood on the menu or something? Anyway, what's the point of separate menus, except to lose business and discredit and trivialize the great Chinese cuisine? Assuming a place has a chef who really knows how to cook, why not put the familiar Americanized stuff that on top of the menu, and the authentic stuff in a section down below? Clearly Chinese restaurateurs have this business coordinated nationwide. Not that anyone asked me, but I think it's time to fix it.

                                    PS Oops, I've hijacked this thread, haven't I?

              2. House of Nanking is one of about 125 Chinese restaurants in San Francisco Chinatown and I've eaten at all but a handful of them. I would rank House of Nanking in the bottom 10, though not to say that the food is bad, just nothing special. There are any number of Chinese restaurants in the Phoenix area that are far superior to House of Nanking, from Nee House on Thunderbird to Tao Garden and many others in Chandler/Mesa, to Hope Kee in the Lee Lee Market in Peoria. There are several threads on the board discussing these places.

                Tao Garden
                2050 N Alma School Rd Ste 36, Chandler, AZ 85224

                Hope Kee
                7575 W Cactus Rd, Peoria, AZ 85381

                3 Replies
                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Thanks everyone for the replies! I'm surprised to read that a lot of people don't share my rave reviews of HNK! Maybe I went on a great night? Or maybe I was just starving after the USC vs. Berkley game? I felt like it blew all of the Chinese food I've had previously out of the water (especially PF Changs. haha!) and I've had my fair share of Chinese food, after living in LA for 10 years and going to Chinatown quite frequently.

                  Anyway - we had a few things at HNK, and each of them was standout (wonton soup with an amazingly flavorful broth, crispy beef, chicken chowmein etc..) but the winner was the Nanking sesame chicken with sweet potatoes. To die for! ...just something about the unique blend of spices and seasonings they used.

                  I have been to Golden Buddha and wasn't impressed. Definitely going to try some of the other suggestions on this board. Thanks!

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

                  1. re: PennyLayne111

                    "... and I've had my fair share of Chinese food, after living in LA for 10 years and going to Chinatown quite frequently."


                    Well, see that's your problem right there. There hasn't been any decent, much less great, Chinese food in LA's Chinatown since the late 1980s.

                    Next time you're in LA, head out east to the San Gabriel Valley -- that's where your more than likely to find truly life changing Chinese grub.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Yes, a number of places mentioned in this thread are clearly better than anything in L.A. Chinatown.