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I find Zoe's is very underrated here

saria Aug 14, 2013 03:55 PM

Basically I've never had anything from this place that wasn't at least good and most everything has been great.

The dan dan noodles are unbalanced in that they have too much noodles (Fuloon's noodles are the ratio I wish Zoe's had) for the amount of sauce, but they're really tasty and always well-cooked.

Their mapo tofu is the best I've had here along with Thailand Cafe's, which is now closed. It's plenty spicy without being insanely so, very well-seasoned, and lots of Sichuan peppercorn.

My favorite sautéed green beans, with Thailand Cafe's being second probably. So flavorful, perfectly cooked, salty, sweet, and downright addictive. I'm perfectly happy to eat them with white rice and nothing else.

Their cumin lamb is better than Qingdao's and Golden Golden. I decided to try it out despite reading here that it wasn't as good as Qingdao's, and it's been my favorite of the three. Qingdao makes deliciously tender lamb that is also fairly boring because it doesn't have much going on besides that it's tender and tastes of cumin. I wanted at least some heat. Golden Garden gets the heat, but the carrots are odd, it lacked the cilantro of Qingdao's, and worst of all, the lamb is too lean and chewy. Zoe's gets the tenderness of Qingdao's along with generous cilantro, with the heat of Golden Garden's. I just had it a couple of days ago and I want it again.

They make a really nice, tender tea-smoked duck as well.

Garlic eggplant is just sweet enough that it isn't cloying, and the eggplant is silky, with the mushrooms providing delicious salty, savory bites.

  1. enhF94 Aug 14, 2013 04:40 PM

    I'll look forward to those dry-fried green beans - I get tired of the commute to Belmont's Shangri-la.

    That said, Zoe's was, at least before it moved across the street, a Chowhound darling. I heard some grumbling post-move a few years ago (I attributed this to my totally unfounded assumption that wok hei is particularly vulnerable to equipment changes) but not much critical downership.

    1. Bob Dobalina Aug 14, 2013 06:31 PM

      Zoe's "regular" Chinese stuff is pretty gross to average. Just have to order correctly.

      1. opinionatedchef Aug 14, 2013 08:23 PM

        It's details like yours that i always appreciate when comparing dish versions. Mulan has been my gold standard for tea smoked duck(which is surprisingly bad at Fuloon) but Zoe's is alot closer for us, so i'll hope to get there soon. thx much.
        (and yes, just as en94 said, Zoe's used to be THE CH talked about place, years ago.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: opinionatedchef
          saria Aug 14, 2013 08:56 PM

          I haven't tried it at Mulan. I was fairly unimpressed with what I had of Mulan, so I haven't been back, since I prefer Jojo's food for Taiwanese. I might go check it out.

        2. p
          pickledtink Aug 14, 2013 08:31 PM

          Count me in the camp that enjoys Zoe's, the caveat being I stick to ordering the things that don't show up on an "average" (if that's the right word) Chinese menu. Love their ma-po tofu and those dry-fried green beans! In general, I find that they are at their best on the Szechuan side of the menu, which works for me!

          1. j
            jajjguy Aug 14, 2013 08:41 PM

            I love Zoe's. Especially mapo tofu or anything mala.

            1. jgg13 Aug 15, 2013 04:23 AM

              My only complaint is they can be a bit uneven, presumably based on who works there. It's been a while since they've been our goto delivery option (in favor of chilli garden which is now in our delivery range) but my recollection was that certain days of the week were better than others

              3 Replies
              1. re: jgg13
                lossless Aug 15, 2013 08:06 AM

                Same here. I love many of the dishes here - the cumin lamb and mapo tofu mentioned by several others, plus the chongqing chicken. The beef brisket noodles are good as well although I prefer the Chilli Garden version. But it can be inconsistent. The twice-cooked pork can be very good on some days, and on others come out dry and brittle.

                R.I.P. Thailand Cafe.

                1. re: lossless
                  saria Aug 15, 2013 09:04 AM

                  I guess I've been really lucky!

                  Another thing I like and it seems silly, but I can't help but notice it because almost nobody else does it is that they actually give you chopsticks and plastic forks if you get takeout. Wang's, Qingdao, Fuloon, and quite a few others are guilty of never providing them, and while I might not need them, I appreciate that they include them.
                  And actually, I've seen Yelp reviews complaining about Fuloon not giving any, so it does matter to some people. Heh.

                  1. re: lossless
                    jgg13 Aug 15, 2013 02:48 PM

                    I've said this in a previous thread but he most amusing example of this is one dish (don't remember name, family style chicken?) which has been a handful of completely different dishes and somewhat repeatable based on e day

                2. m
                  mkfisher Aug 15, 2013 08:42 AM

                  Ok, I'll say it... I really like the Americanized dishes at Zoe's. It's the best pork lo mein I've ever had. The sesame chicken, beef and broccolio etc. are all quite good. We probably get Zoe's delivered once every couple weeks, and we're always happy with the decision.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: mkfisher
                    enhF94 Aug 15, 2013 09:03 AM

                    I'm fine with that.

                    1. re: mkfisher
                      opinionatedchef Aug 15, 2013 09:59 PM

                      Good pork lomein is really hard to find IME. I remember posting about the unusually good ( a few times but not lately, go figure)pork lomein at Fuloon (where we also like the Gen'l Gao's.) I think alot of hot spicy food lovers either avoid or don't think to try some of these non-spicy Americanized dishes at the spicier Chinese food places. But aren't we lucky that some of these talented chefs are so well rounded?!

                      mk- is the sesame chicken fried strips glazed and sprinkled w sesame seeds- or other? do they have a good wet beef chow foon?(i haven't had that since Bo Shek) Thx.

                      1. re: opinionatedchef
                        mkfisher Aug 16, 2013 05:31 AM

                        The sesame chicken is just chunks of fried/glazed chicken. Don't remember if there are sesame seeds to be honest. It's one of those things I wouldn't normal get delivered, but it actually travels ok. I'd imagine it's better in the restaurant.

                      2. re: mkfisher
                        maillard Aug 16, 2013 01:07 PM

                        I've found most of the Americanized dishes at Qingdao to be really good as well. They've got pretty good lo mein and orange beef, and excellent egg rolls and kung pao chicken. Which is nice since East Asia is now gone (I still haven't found anywhere that has good fried rice, though, unfortunately).

                      3. blumiethekoala Aug 15, 2013 08:47 AM

                        I'm a huge Zoe's fan, particularly for the Sichuan and Hunan dishes. The best thing I've had there was the fish filet with hot chili sauce (photo attached). It's basically a gigantic, shareable bowl of flaky white fish, chili peppers, and oil. Depending on your level of spice tolerance, I'd say it ranges from a comfortable kick to pretty hot.

                        I also find the soup dumplings (steamed juicy pork buns on the menu) generally acceptable, although not quite as good as, say, Dumpling Cafe or Gourmet Dumpling House.

                        When I go to Zoe's, I like to split the meal about 50/50 between the more interesting Sichuan/Hunan dishes and the Americanized stuff. I'm actually kind of into the strawberry chicken, to be honest. (It's like a standard orange chicken, but strawberry, and it's been perfectly fried whenever I get it.)

                        Also...bonus points for the ridiculous website...Angry Birds icons!?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: blumiethekoala
                          lossless Aug 15, 2013 08:55 AM

                          Is that the strawberry chicken in the third photo? Will try next time.

                          1. re: lossless
                            blumiethekoala Aug 15, 2013 08:57 AM

                            Yep! It's very thinly sliced, so it gets nice and crispy. But it's pretty sweet, so that can be a deterrent to some people.

                          2. re: blumiethekoala
                            jgg13 Aug 15, 2013 02:47 PM

                            That strawberry chicken has intrigued me for years, but ice never pulled the trigger.

                            One irritation is that more often than not, when I order off the Hunan section (via Foodler) they call me to tell mesons ingredient is missing (often preserved pork) and want a substitute off the cuff. Of course I don't have their menu memorized so they keep trying to force me into the general or cashew chicken when everything else on my order is *not* of that ilk

                          3. MC Slim JB Aug 15, 2013 09:21 AM

                            I can remember liking Zoe's a lot for its Sichuan dishes, the rest not so much, but it got displaced in my rotation by newer places that are closer to me, like Sichuan Gourmet, (*sniff*) Thailand Cafe, and New Shanghai.

                            Incidentally, quite impressed with the new Sichuan Gourmet House (no relation to Sichuan Gourmet) in Newton (across from the Newton Cemetery between Newton Centre and Waban). Quite traditional, very good.


                            1. n
                              nickls Aug 15, 2013 11:04 AM

                              Count me in as a fan of Zoe's. I love their Ma Po Tofu and green beans. Will have to give their cumin lamb and garlic eggplant a try as well.

                              My wife is also willing to eat their more Americanized dishes, which was not true of say Golden Garden or Shangri-La.

                              1. c
                                ColoradoXJ13 Aug 16, 2013 10:18 AM

                                I am definitely a fan of the szechuan side of the menu at Zoe's, and it is right down the street from me, and they gave me a VIP card, which entitles me to a % discount if I pay cash. Recently though, I ordered the cumin lamb, and the bunch of cilantro that it came with was absolutely covered in sand, which got into the meat as well and made the dish inedible. I should have complained, oh well.

                                Their juicy mini buns (soup dumplings) are fairly good, and I echo that the Dan Dan noodles and string beans are great too. I need to branch out on what I order though, I always get the same 4 dishes when I go...been a while since the sand incident.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ColoradoXJ13
                                  lossless Aug 17, 2013 11:58 AM

                                  I believe the policy now is 5% off for anyone if you pay cash.

                                2. litchick Aug 17, 2013 08:32 AM

                                  Love Zoes. I prefer their ma po to almost anyone else's. The green beans, the tea smoked duck, smoked tofu & celery, chicken with strange flavor, duck mala style... so good.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: litchick
                                    opinionatedchef Sep 9, 2013 08:15 PM

                                    did you say strange flavor chicken??? that was my fav dish at
                                    the long gone Hunan Palace in Watertown(Galen St) The 'strange flavor' being fresh cilantro. and it had tomato in the just slightly sweet sauce. Is that how Zoe's version is?
                                    Be still my beating heart.......

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef
                                      enhF94 Sep 18, 2013 04:50 PM

                                      I never saw obvious cilantro bits in it, but the sauce was red enough it could have contained tomato. I remembered it as "mysterious flavor chicken" which may or may not be the same. Litchick?

                                  2. KWagle Aug 19, 2013 01:38 AM

                                    I have always enjoyed Zoe's, but it's off the beaten path for me so I forget about it. I need to get there more often. Thanks for the reminder.

                                    1. c
                                      caromk Aug 19, 2013 09:23 AM

                                      Zoe's has been my go to Chinese food delivery since I moved to Cambridge, but I find it hit or miss. (But less miss than the others I've tried.) My favorite dish is the Ground Pork with Sichuan Long Beans. The long beans are pickled which is the perfect contrast to the ground pork. But every forth order or so, the ground pork is overcooked to an unappetizing dry grayness. I have had similar experiences with everything else I've ordered, usually solid, but occasionally terrible (the crispy walnut prawns, perhaps my own fault). And certain things (fried appetizers, dumplings) steam too much on the way to me, but that's not their fault.

                                      I'm excited to see if some of the other places people have mentioned in this thread deliver to me, because coming from a land of plenty for solid Chinese food delivery (California), I'd like to find someplace a bit more consistent.

                                      1. Allstonian Sep 9, 2013 07:57 AM

                                        Yikes - the whole facade of the building Zoe's is in collapsed this morning!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Allstonian
                                          KWagle Sep 10, 2013 01:10 AM

                                          This is really unfortunate. I hope they manage to recover.

                                        2. p
                                          pedxing Oct 6, 2013 11:05 AM

                                          I fell in love with Zoes a long time ago, late '90s I think and it was my go to Chinese for quite a while, but for years it has been frustratingly inconsistent. They seemed to fall apart around the time the owner tried to open a second restaurant and I've not been able to trust them. I've pretty much given up on them, though I'll try them once or twice a year and will try them again after they re-open.
                                          I really hope they get it together -I live in Porter Square, but everyone in my usual dinner crew prefers the longer trips to Fu Loon or Szechuan's Dumplings.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: pedxing
                                            9lives Oct 6, 2013 01:46 PM

                                            Ever hear of kicking a guy when he's down?

                                          2. m
                                            mkfisher Oct 7, 2013 09:31 AM

                                            Anyone drive-by lately? Is the whole building coming down, or are they just doing repairs to the existing structure?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: mkfisher
                                              jajjguy Oct 8, 2013 01:33 PM

                                              Boarded up, official UNSAFE stickers on every board, no visible action.

                                              1. re: jajjguy
                                                smtucker Oct 8, 2013 05:30 PM

                                                My heart is breaking.

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