Food and Fun in Chinatown: Dinner at Phoenix
We recently realized that we hadn’t had Chinese food in a while and the time seemed right for a trip to Chicago’s Chinatown. Win, my outstanding restaurant researcher, had a few potential places in mind for us that night and we decided that we’d check them all out and decide which to choose when we got there and saw more.
Phoenix ended up the winner. Phoenix is known for its dim sum and its lobby is covered in awards and accolades for its food and its dim sum specifically. It is housed in an unassuming storefront with a basic sign, but when you climb the stairs to the restaurant you see it’s actually quite large, elegantly appointed with white tablecloths and depending on where you sit you might get a magnificent view of downtown Chicago and the Sears Tower. The night we went it was bustling with activity; tourists and locals, young and old, big groups and quiet tables for two, all enjoying the excellent food.
Phoenix’s menu is extensive and since Chinese food makes such great leftovers we decided we’d order more than we could probably eat at the time and then just take the rest home. Our goal was to try and experience several dishes, since so many looked great.
For an appetizer, Win selected Barbeque Pork. It was really tender, flavorful and delicious.
I chose one of Phoenix’s appetizer specials for the evening, Fried Soft Shell Crab served with salt and pepper. As promised by our waiter, this soft shell crab was out of this world. Perfectly fried, fresh as can be, and just so good. I am a sucker for soft shell crab and often order it when it’s in season. I’m so glad I tried this one at Phoenix.
Next we each had a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup. This soup was good, but not transcendent. Nothing wrong with it, but I have preferred the flavor of the hot and sour at other places.
For my entrée, I ordered Salt-Crusted Shrimp. I have been obsessed with the concept of Salt-Crusted Shrimp since I read Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser. In that book (one of my favorites that I just love to pick up and skim here and there for a recipe or a good story), Hesser talks about the heavenly experience of dining on Salt-Crusted Shrimp at Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City. You know how sometimes you read a recipe and it just sounds so good that the idea of it sticks with you? Well this is how I was with this shrimp. So when I saw Salt-Crusted Shrimp on the menu at Phoenix, I knew I had to try it…even though it was going to be a completely different interpretation from what Hesser describes in her book. Well the dish might have been different, but it was outstanding. Large, fresh shrimp coated in a thick, salty crust. Really great and worthy of a second Tsingtao.
Win enjoyed Orange Chicken and thought it was everything that dish should be. Right flavors, great taste. Phoenix offers two cooking styles for the chicken, crispy or not crispy (meaning not fried). As you can tell from the photo above, Win opted for the non-crispy variety this time.
We also ordered some Pan-Fried Noodles to accompany the meal. I ordered them plain, but they mysteriously showed up with beef on them. That was ok by Win though, who happily enjoyed the meat. These weren’t exactly what I was expecting (I’m used to Pan-Fried Noodles being crispier and less Lo Mein-like) but they were terrific.
Service at Phoenix was very efficient, almost brisk at times, and friendly. The food was excellent and the large menu will allow you to sample a wide variety of dishes. It’s a good spot to stop for a meal in Chinatown.
2131 S. Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616-1809