It struck me, somewhere between the appetizers and our main courses, that Phoenix Asian Cuisine is the perfect restaurant to send the typical PF Chang’s diner.
I ate dinner at the Chinese chain last month for the first time in a decade, though I did help a former roommate study for a menu quiz in the interim period when she was working there as a server there. PF Chang’s has upped its game in the last 10 years, responding to the farm-to-fork trend with a menu rebranding and hiring someone to shoot high-quality photos to accompany the localist text.
Despite relatively slim pickings when it comes to good Chinese food in the Triad — I favor Captain Chen’s in Greensboro and Sampan Chinese in Winston-Salem — I’ve steered away from PF Chang’s. Not that it isn’t good: I tried several things while eating at the Winston-Salem location last month, and enjoyed everything. But unless I’m looking for something quick, cheap and convenient, I do my best to avoid chains.
And that’s why I realized, while grabbing dinner with my dad at Phoenix Asian Cuisine in northwest Greensboro recently, that the restaurant is an ideal alternative.
Like PF Chang’s, Phoenix is an amalgam of Asian food, with everything from a sushi menu to the restaurant’s take on steamed buns with duck. The menu is filled with items that the PF Chang’s crowd and other casual consumers of Asian food will recognize — pad Thai, teriyaki chicken, lo mein, fried rice and kung pao shrimp (above).
There’s even lettuce wrap appetizers that taste similar to those I tried at the chain.
My sense is that places like Captain Chen’s are what the stereotypical PF Chang’s diner might refer to as “too authentic,” with its spicy, Szechuan-style food that immediately woke up and delighted my palate. And on the other end of the spectrum, Americanized Chinese food joints like Golden Wok, another favorite on Greensboro’s West Wendover Avenue near Bridford Parkway, are better suited to takeout or casual meals.
Instead, the low light, booths and table service at Phoenix deliver the vibe of a chain restaurant even though it isn’t one, suggesting that this is a good place to bring family members with divergent tastes that won’t take them out of their comfort zone. Hell, they serve crème brule cheesecake and chocolate lava cake.
That’s exactly what a lot of diners are looking for, and it’s the appeal of chain restaurants such as PF Chang’s.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to explore items you haven’t had before; I went for the Beijing roast duck, in part because it comes with steamed buns but also because it’s under the “chef’s signature” part of the menu. I almost went with the Seoul Barbecue, a Korean dish with pork, beef or lamb, as one of the lone Korean items on the menu, and I kind of wish I had.
The signature Szechuan dish ma po tofu — probably the only tofu dish you’d catch me ordering at a restaurant and one of the enjoyable things I tried at Captain Chen’s — is on the menu here if you’re willing to veer off the beaten path. Or go for the Cantonese roast duck, described on the menu as “true Chinese cuisine” consisting of a half duck, bone in.
Next time I’d probably skip the sushi we ordered as appetizers and go for the Singapore noodles with vermicelli and chicken. Others would prefer the “traditional” sweet & sour chicken. And that’s kind of the point — by offering a little of everything and pandering a little to middle America, Phoenix Asian Cuisine should be well poised to capture the demographic that usually goes to PF Chang’s. And that’s how it should be, because despite the fact that I genuinely enjoyed my recent dinner at the chain, when there’s a comparable local alternative that can compete, there’s no reason not to take the short drive down Bryan Boulevard to patronize it instead.
Visit Phoenix Asian Cuisine at 1631 New Garden Road (GSO) or at eatatphoenix.com.