I tend to avoid Mission Street this time of year, but there I was, and realized one of the Chinese restaurants had changed hands, albeit more than a year ago. Now named Phoenix Asian Restaurant, it's known for its huge selection of lunch specials for about $6.
The rice paper wrappers of fat Vietnamese Spring Rolls ($3.95) were lined with lettuce. Inside, spears of cucumber and fried tofu joined matchstick carrot, shreds of purple cabbage, thin noodles and fresh mint leaves. The thick, tart peanut sauce was lightly spiced with red chilies.
One of my favorite Chinese dishes is Garlic Sauce Chicken ($7.65) and Phoenix's version did not disappoint. Sampling chicken breast from the steaming plate, spicy heat built with each bite. The dark sauce held a generous amount of crunchy minced garlic. The assortment of vegetables included mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, thin slices of bamboo shoot, celery, broccoli and zucchini. The chili sauce on the table was marvelous—no flakes drenched in funky oil, just ground red chilies which pack a wonderful wallop.
Singapore-Style Noodle ($8.95) was billed as spicy, but I did not find it to be so. Either that or I got a different dish. It was a turmeric-colored blend of noodles, thin egg omelette, chicken breast, and plump shrimp with three colors of bell pepper. It was nicely cooked and lightly flavored with what tasted like curry powder, and the soft noodles were very comforting. What I liked most were the red strips of BBQ pork. I would definitely order BBQ Pork with Mix Vegetable ($7.65) on another visit.
Of course take-out is offered, so I called ahead for an early lunch. Thin slices of Szechuan Beef ($8.65) were cooked traditionally in hot oil until crunchy and curly, but I didn't detect any heat or spice. When I've eaten this dish before, the meat was then mixed with sautéed vegetables. With a nice dipping sauce it would make an interesting appetizer.
A generous portion of Salt and Pepper Pork Chop ($9.95), served with sautéed jalapenos and green onions, was made from fatty and bony blade chops. The spice mixture was served on the side to add as desired.
The crowning glory to the meal was the unique hot and sour soup. The dark, thick, translucent broth was sweet, a bit sour, and absolutely loaded with both fresh garlic and red chilies making it the spiciest dish I had tried. It also contained multiple types of bell peppers cooked to perfection.
Phoenix Asian Restaurant, 2301 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 466-3888. Beer and wine. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visit menustation.com/phoenix/menu.html ★★★
Teams all over the county are raising funds for the Sept. 25 Alzheimer's Memory Walk in Aptos. Team “It's a Zoo” will be holding a chili cook-off and raffle this Saturday, Aug. 28. Numerous cooks will be vying for the Top Chef award. For a donation ($10), enjoy chili, cornbread, and dessert.
Team “It's a Zoo” Alzheimer Walk Fundraiser Chili Cook-off, Saturday Aug. 28, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. De Anza Mobile Home Park Clubhouse, 2395 Delaware Ave., Santa Cruz. Admission $10; please park on Delaware.
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