For a small stint in time, I lived in New York City. Being from Phoenix, this was a major transistion because I was used to living on a half-acre parcel of land in a ranch-style house with my neighbors not sharing a common wall with my house. It was uncomfortable living near 22 million of your closest friends in a space the size of Maricopa County. It was never quiet. It was never dark.
However, there are some things I really miss about NYC, one of them being Chinese food. I had so many great meals on Mott Street in Chinatown, where many of the small restaurants had plenty of BBQ ducks and pork loins hanging in the windows, enticing passers-by to come in for a meal. That is often difficult to find in Phoenix, but there is some decent Chinese food here, if one knows where to look.
Dave the Ex-Patriate, Neil, Anthony and I were all craving some good Chinese food. I had come up with a list of new places to try and we decided to try someplace I had never heard of called Silver Dragon near the southwest corner of 19th Avenue and Dunlap Road in Phoenix. I literally missed the place as I drove by because I am not that familiar with the neighbor and wasn’t sure which side of the street it was on. We pulled into the parking lot and parked right near the entrance.
As we entered, I noticed two different menus at the register and requested a table and both menus as I was hoping the second menu would list some more traditional Chinese dishes. We were seated in the center of a small dining room. We reviewed the menus as we ordered drinks: two Iced Teas ($1.50 each) and two Diet Cokes ($1.50 each). Our server disappeared into the kitchen and another server arrived with water glasses.
When our drinks were brought, we were ready to order. Dave ordered a couple of items from the alternative menu, but both items were unavailable because, as our server said, the restaurant was not able to get fresh ingredients for the dish. Since we all seemed to be focusing on some items on the regular menu, we all ordered our dishes from there, vowing to come back another time for the alternative menu.
Our final choices were four Egg Rolls ($1.25 each), Fried Potstickers ($5.60), Chicken Chow Fun ($7.65) for Neil, Moo Shu Pork ($7.85) for Anthony, Beef in Tangerine Peel Sauce ($7.65) for Dave, and Chicken in Garlic Sauce ($7.20) for myself. We also got an order of BBQ Pork Fried Rice ($5.65) and an order of Spicy String Beans ($7.15) for the table to share. Dave decided to have a bowl of the Hot and Sour Soup ($2.35) to start.
Our server left to place the order and I noticed how attentive the staff was. Plates were immediately brought for the appetizers. Drinks were replentished every few minutes. We never lacked anything. As we did wait for the appetizers, I noticed that the building that housed the restaurant was old and had faded over time, but the interior was bright and clean, but only a few Chinese unbrellas and faux flower arrangements decorated the walls.
Dave’s Hot and Sour Soup was the first thing to hit the table. In a small bowl, the soup was served steaming hot and was the traditional opaque reddish color with bits of tofu, chicken, bamboo shoots and scallions. Dave said the soup was very good, but said he had had better. He liked the fact that the heat in both temperature and spice were turned up on this version and would have it again.
Next up were the egg rolls. These were exceptionally. Sure, they were just egg rolls, but they were outstanding. They had been fried a bit longer than normal, so the wrappers were a dark golden brown and super crunchy. The interior was excellent with an abundance of fresh cabbage and carrots with just a bit of pork. The filling was hot, but not soggy, and the combination of the crunchy vegetables with the crispy wrappers had us singing the praises of these egg rolls. The plum sauce served with the rolls was fairly standard, but not overly sweet. All the way around, we were big fans of these.
As our eggrolls were being polished off, our Potstickers arrived. Eight morsels of pork-wrapped-in-dough were set before us. I liked the fact that they were actually fried correctly and were not at all soggy. The doughy outsides were slightly crisp, but still soft on the inside. The filling was a simple spiced pork mixture that was very good and had a decent edge of garlic that we all liked. Things were off to a very good start with Silver Dragon and we were hoping it would last through the entrees.
While would could have settled for plain white rice for our meals, we all agreed that the BBQ Pork Fried Rice sounded good, so we were overly pleased when it arrived first at the table. We each dressed our plates with it and there was a moment of silence before we all looked at each other and said a collective “wow.” It was quite delicious, with its mixture of rice, peas, water chestnuts, carrots and plenty of BBQ pork pieces. It wasn’t greasy, but just had a savory flavor and an excellent texture. We were returning to it again and again even before our other entrees arrived.
Neil’s Chicken Chow Fun was actually a special request from Neil. It was on the menu as Beef Chow Fun, but the staff didn’t bat an eye when Neil requested the chicken substitute. When it arrived at the table, it had a great aroma and Neil seemed very pleased with it. I had a bite and noted that the noodles were perfectly cooked and the chicken was very tender. It also had a blast of spice that snuck up on all of us a few minutes after taking a bite. It was an unexpected twist that we all enjoyed.
While I am not a big Moo Shu fan, Anthony adores the stuff and was thrilled that four large Chinese burritos arrived at this plate. They were already premade and served with extra Hoisin sauce. Silver Dragon could have easily skimped on the filling, but that was not the case. There was plenty of vegetables and pork stuffed into each pancake. Anthony said that they were very good, noting that the filling was hot and the pancakes were not dry at all. He said this was not the best Moo Shu he had ever had, but was very happy with it.
Dave’s Beef in Tangerine Peel Sauce was fantastic. Strips of beef had been breaded and fried until crispy and then tossed in a rich tangerine sauce that was sweet, spicy, garlicky and knocked our socks off. The beef was not overcooked from the frying process and the addition of the scallions to the dish gave a refreshing bitter contrast to the sweetness of the sauce. I think this was my favorite dish on the table.
Well, the Beef in Tangerine Sauce was my favorite on the table until the Spicy String Beans arrived. These were the clear winner for me. They were executed perfectly and would be one of the best versions I have ever had. The beans were tender-crisp and the sauce was both smokey, savory, spice and loaded with garlic. Dave is not a fan of the string bean and Anthony only had a few tastes, which left Neil and I to do battle over the dish. Upon our truce, we split up the servings, both of us being quite content.
My Chicken in Garlic Sauce was the last to arrive at the table and it was worth the wait. When the dish arrived, I thought we were given a plate of Sweet and Sour Chicken. All the components were there: Chicken, an orange and pink sauce, onion slices, carrots and a little chopped green onions for decoration. However, one bite changed everything. The crisp chicken had been bathed in a tangy garlic sauce that won raves at the table. It was slighty spicy with an understated sweetness. The chicken was moist, but still provided a good crispy texture from the batter.
We finished just about every crumb of food on the table, although Anthony did take home some of the Moo Shu Pork. We requested our bill and the total was $67.02, which included tax. We thought it was a steal, because we were able to sacrifice our hunger on the altar of gluttony for less than $20.00 apiece. The service was incredibly attentive and friendly.
Our journey back to the car had seemed much longer with our full stomachs. But we headed back to East Phoenix wondering about that alternative menu.
Sure, what we had wasn’t going to rival the food on Mott Street in NYC. But for our money, we were quite content.
And I got to go home to a nice, quite ranch-style house.
Silver Dragon Chinese Restaurant
8946 North 19th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85021
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday - 11 AM to 9:30 PM; Friday and Sunday - 11 AM to 10 PM; Saturday - 4:30 PM to 10 PM; Closed Wednesdays.
Notes: Just south of Dunlap on 19th Avenue on the west side of the street. Ask for the alternative menu.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com