In the midst of a normal day, I go to work, I take a late lunch, I return to work, I go home and forage for dinner. It isn't exciting, but it is the way things are. The highlight for me is going to lunch and sometimes I want a place where I can get a good, fresh meal at minimal cost that isn't necessarily exciting.
I was craving something Asian. It didn't have to be anything special, but I wanted something tasty and cheap. Canvasing the office for ideas, our resident vegetarian suggested a little place that I had seen before but never visited. It was called the Mu Shu Asian Grill and was at the corner of 15th Avenue and Thomas Road in Central Phoenix, right across the street from the Phoenix College parking lot.
I had remembered this place when it was called Yum's Chinese Buffet or something similar. The building has been there for ages, but I can't recall much of the history prior to Yum's. I did pull into the parking lot and noticed a few cars, but not many, dotting the parking lot. I went inside and waited to be seated. The inside was nothing fancy, but it was very clean and broken into two sections. In the back, a group of Asian businessmen were eating their lunches and talking about a Powerpoint presentation that was being shown on the wall by one of the men using a small projector for his laptop. A few other couples dotted the front room. It was nice, cheery and inviting. The only thing I didn't like was how close the tables were to each other. Easily, they could have pulled one or two tables out for breathing space.
I finally noticed that the goal here was not to be seated and have your order taken, but you would place your order at the register and follow the instructions on the bottom of the menu. It was, from my take, a cross between a Chinese and Mongolion restaurant.
I surveyed the menu and selected my attack plan. I asked the person at the register for the Pork Stir Fry ($5.95) with the Szechuan Spicy Garlic sauce, noodles ($1.00 surcharge) and an Iced Tea. The person rang up my order, I paid my $9.13 for lunch and was handed a rather large bowl. Next to me on the counter was a large salad bar like area where I was to choose the veggies I wanted in my stir fry. There were about 25 selections and all looked exceptionally fresh. I went with the regular cabbage, onions, green pepper, carrots, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, mushrooms and bok choy. There were other options including tofu, zucchini, eggplant and celery. I packed the bowl until it was overflowing with one of the staff waiting for me to finish.
I handed my bowl over to the cook and he tossed my veggies, the pork and the sauce into a huge wok and worked his magic. I filled my glass with iced tea, which turned out to be a very refreshing green tea. I also grabbed a small bowl of fried wonton wrappers and some plum sauce. I took a table in the front area and waited for my lunch to be served.
I looked at the menu again and thought about some of the other options. The standards were all there, including Carm Rangoon ($1.95 for four) and Post Stickers ($1.95 for four). also on the menu were "Mu Shu Wraps" which would have been as close to Mu Shu as you were going to find here. But it all looked fresh and delicious.
A few moments more passed and I was motioned to by the cook that my meal was ready. The bowl was full and the smell of garlic was intoxicating. I returned to my table, took my first bite and savored the stir fry. This was very basic, spartan stir fry, but it was very good. Everything was cooked tender crisp, the meat was tender and the garlic sauce was very spicy and very garlicky. The noodles were at the bottom of the bowl and were a great choice for this bowl of stir fry.
I made my way through the entire bowl, two glasses of iced tea and several bowls of the fried wrappers. By the end of my meal, I was full. I had eaten every last morsel and thought the garlic sauce was the true star of the show. My only complaint was that the sauce was a bit soupy for my tastes and I would have preferred it to be a bit thicker to stick to the noodles and vegetables more, but that is a preference more than anything else.
I truly thought that for a quick, filling, satisfying lunch, Mu Shu Asian Grill had scored a big success. What was not to like? The make or break for my meal would have been the freshness of the vegetables. Had they been cut or chopped days before, the taste and texture would have indicated it. But these were bright, crisp and fresh.
I grabbed one more cup of iced tea for the road and thanked the manager. In the back room, the businessmen were still pondering the reflections on the wall.
I really enjoyed Mu Shu Asian Grill and it has a veritable gold mine with all the college students right across the street. The place is simple and clean. The food is fresh, tasty, and plentiful.
That is what makes a good lunch a good lunch.
Mu Shu Asian Grill
1502 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85012