I could hardly wait to eat at Wong’s Place. My friend Celeste calls it “unequivocally the best unassuming Chinese restaurant in Arizona.” And Celeste knows Chinese food. Truly, she doesn’t remember a time in her life when Chinese food wasn’t front and center. As a baby in Foochow, China, some of the first solid foods that went into her mouth were noodles, rice and pork dumplings lovingly prepared and fed to her by her amah. Later, growing up in Japan, it was a family ritual to go to the same Chinese restaurant after church each Sunday.
Always on the hunt in the U.S. for that “authentic” taste, she learned about Wong’s Place from her younger sister who lives in Tempe. Celeste now uses every excuse to make the two-hour drive to Phoenix just so she can eat at Wong’s Place.
When I knew I’d have some time last week before my flight home to Bozeman, I asked if she and her husband would like to join me for lunch at Wong’s. I was so delighted they said “yes.”
Located on a main road not far from the Phoenix airport in the city of Tempe, Arizona, Wong’s Place is an easy to find, modest pink stand-alone building. You walk into a well-worn dining room full of booths with mauve pink clothed tables. At the back there’s a large open window into the kitchen. Next to it on the wall hangs a blackboard with “chalk-written specials that have never changed.”
The Blue Menu
Once seated you’re handed a pink menu. Give it back and ask instead for the “blue menu,” the Chinese menu. This menu has the more authentic selections with Chinese flavors and sauces that haven’t been Americanized.
What to order
Celeste knew just what to order. As she has had a few disappointing dishes at Wong’s Place, she now mainly sticks with her favorite dishes. Which easily became my favorites as well.
A richly colored dish of crispy tofu (which Celeste pronounces as “dofu”) triangles covered with a dark, thick and pungent Hunan-style sauce. So delicious. There were black beans and scallions in the sauce. And surely garlic, chilies and dark soy sauce were also present along with other flavorful ingredients we couldn’t identify.
Steamed Sea Bass
Wong’s Place version of this traditional Chinese fish recipe creates a most meltingly tender and flavorful Sea Bass. Scattered with scallions, ginger and mushrooms and steamed to perfection. Immediately out of the steamer hot oil and soy sauce are poured over the fish before it’s garnished with fresh cilantro and served. Oh so delicate and oh so excellent.
Coincidentally, this is a recipe I learned many years ago from a Chinese-American caterer I worked with in Los Angeles. We would prepare it with either whole Rock Cod or Red Snapper. Though, now, my favorite way to eat it is with Sea Bass.
Sautéed Kai Choy Garlic Sauce
Wanting a green vegetable, we chose gai choy in garlic sauce. Also known as Oriental Mustard, Chinese Mustard and Gai Choy, these edible leafed mustard greens are very popular in both Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines.
FYI, as a member of the cabbage family, kai choy is a nutrient rich cruciferous vegetable.
Two more dishes for next time
As there were only three of us, we didn’t order all of Celeste’s favorites. These two dishes will be for next time. Though if you get there before I do, let me know what you think.
- Crystal Shrimp with Walnuts
- Salt and Pepper Eggplant (an item from the never-changing blackboard specials)
End of the meal contentment
Tom, Celeste’s husband took all of the photos in today’s post. You can see from the front and center empty plate, that taking photos didn’t keep him from enjoying lunch as much as Celeste and I did.
1825 East Baseline Road, #2
Tempe, Arizona 85283