Birmingham's Chinese food scene took a turn for the better with the recent opening of the restaurant, Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking, in Hoover.
Mr. Chen and his wife have been in the Birmingham area for more than two decades. They ran the Red Pearl Restaurant in its heyday and more recently had a place in Center Point, according to The Birmingham News.
My wife and I went Saturday evening before the Loudon Wainwright III concert. The place was packed early. About two-thirds of tables were three-generation Asian families, while the rest were curious Westerners.
This is not your typical Chinese menu. No Moo Goo Gai Pan and electric-red sweet-and-sour dishes (although there are kung pao chicken and sesame chicken). Instead think Basil Squid, Ginger and Onion Crab, Spare ribs wrapped in Lotus Leaf, Braised Beef Belly in hot pot.
For starters, you have a choice of cold plates(braised beef shanks, pig ears, smoked duck -- each $6.95), steamed pork buns ($3.95), dumplings ($3.05), Za-jiang Bean Sauce noodles ($5.95) or Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, $3.95 (A typical dim sum dish with meats and vegetables mixed with the rice, then steamed in the lotus leaf). They also have some soups.
For vegetarians (like my wife), entrees include a variety of tofu dishes as well as all-vegetable dishes like string bean, pea leaves and lilly flower and vegetable combination.
Prices for almost everything, including most seafood dishes, is under $10. It would be fun to go with a group, order half the menu and graze family style. Portions are generous. The three clay pot dishes are all under $15.00.
I had the smoked pork with garlic shoots. Delicious -- salty and not too smoky. It's very similar to tofu with baked bean curd and bamboo shoots. My wife had ma po tofu, which came in a small braisier and was delicious.
No alcohol, and it's unlikely they're in a hurry to get any. They serve a variety of teas and what they bill as "milk teas."
It's a storefront operation in "old" Hoover, but they have done a nice job of decorating all things considered. Limited number of tables.
Mr/ Chen's is in the plaza with Hoover Drugs, next to the new Publix on U.S. 31 in Hoover (not far from I-65 and the Vestavia Hills line) and behind the Region's bank. It's open six days for lunch and dinner (9 p.m. close). Closed Mondays.