I don’t envy the owners of businesses along the Phoenix Light Rail (PLR) construction route. Most have seen significant decreases in business and some have closed up shop and moved elsewhere to keep their businesses alive (China Chili is a good example of the latter). Others, though, have decided to stick it out and trim staff or offer deals in order to keep some traffic coming in the door. Silverbear over at Phoenix Rail Food has done a great job of pointing out the various gastronomical treats that are available along the entire PLR route.
Madge, Boris and I were craving Chinese food, but we wanted to try something new. I had heard good things about Prime Chinese Restaurant near Central and Camelback in Phoenix, but it was always with a note about how horrid it was to get to the place because of the PLR construction. I suggested the place to Madge and Boris with the caveat about the construction and they waved it off. Then, Madge simply asked for the address before telling me to get in the car and shut up.
Off we drove to Prime and the construction was indeed hellish. We missed the feeder lane that would have allowed us to get to the parking lot and that made us head down Camelback and do an illegal U-turn only to find ourselves dodging pylons, gaping holes and construction signs in order to get to the restaurant. We finally did make it and Madge’s mood was definitely – shall we say – less than chipper.
Upon entering the restaurant, we noticed how striking the interior was. Plenty of metal surfaces, a bare floor and abstract art gave the place an open feel. The place was brightly lit and a few tables were populated with groups of people enjoying their meals. A very quiet, but friendly older woman took us to our table and gave us our menus. She asked if we wanted water, which we did, and then departed to retrieve the ice water while we reviewed the menu.
The menus had us scratching our heads a bit, but in a good way. We were rather caught off guard by the interesting dishes like Pumpkin Chicken and Kung Pao Cabbage. The usual suspects were all there, but there were occasional dishes that drew curious looks. When our server returned with the water, we also ordered Diet Cokes ($1.50 a can) and two appetizers: the Chicken Satay ($6.25) and three egg rolls ($1.45 each). Our server said she would get our drinks and place our appetizer order.
Upon her return, we were ready to order our entrees. Madge decided to go with the Sesame Chicken ($9.95) while Boris had the Pecan Chicken ($10.95). I was fascinated by the Pineapple Beef ($10.95). Boris and I also decided to split an order of the Dry Fried String Beans ($7.95). We sat back and waited, noting how comfortable the place was with its simple interior and funky atmosphere.
Within a few minutes, our server brought out our Egg Rolls. The plate contained three miniature-size egg rolls atop shredded lettuce and served with a small bowl of plum sauce. The egg rolls were piping hot and we each quickly grabbed one and dropped it on our plates, waiting for it to cool. As we were cutting them open to release the steam, I mentioned to Madge and Boris that I thought they were rather small. They agreed, especially for $1.45 each. We laced them with the plum sauce and took a bite. They were exquisite. Lots of crunchy cabbage, a few flecks of pork and a tremendous amount of garlic hit our tongues. These were excellent all the way around. We loved them, but we still thought they were pretty small.
Shortly after finishing the egg rolls, our Chicken Satay arrived. Six skewers of chicken were resting on some shredded lettuce and served with a very thin peanut sauce. I understood we were taking a gamble with Satay at a Chinese restaurant, but if it was on the menu, it was fair game. The satay was okay. The chicken was moist and tender and had a mild flavor. The peanut sauce was somewhat lackluster, but still added a good dimension to the chicken. When we had finished the dish, we all thought it was decent, but couldn’t hold a prayer against the flavor of the egg rolls.
We were hoping our entrees would be much better than the appetizers. The first noshes of our dinner each was lacking something – either taste or portion size and we hoped that we would be wowed by our main meal.
The first dish to hit the table was the Dry Fried Green Beans that Boris and I decided to split. We each grabbed a spoonful and dumped it on our plates. After one bite, we were all smiles. The beans were stellar. They had been stir fried and then served with a tiny bit of garlic sauce. They beans were crisp and fresh and the dark green color was beautiful. The garlic had coated the beans very well and we loved the flavor of them. The dish was a great redemption from the appetizers.
Madge’s Sesame Chicken was just as gorgeous as the green beans. Large chunks of chicken had been breaded, deep fried and then tossed with a mildly sweet glaze and a few sesame seeds were scattered about the dish. We each took some along with the steamed white rice and liked the dish very much. The breading was crunchy and the chicken very moist. The glaze was somewhat of a surprise because besides being slightly sweet, it also had a nice punch of spice on the backside. It was unexpected and very welcome.
My Pineapple Beef was going to be a hit the minute I saw and smelled it. The sweetness of the pineapple and the savory scent of the beef was intoxicating. Again, we filled our plates, got a bit more rice and dove in. I thought Madge was going to disappear into her Happy Place for a moment. In fact, I think we all did. The beef slices were as soft as butter and the pineapple had slightly caramelized. It was a wonderful mix of sweet and savory and the green onions and bell pepper slices only enhanced the dish. Wow! What a great dish it was. We all sat silently as we fixated on getting every drop of the Pineapple Beef from our plates to our mouths.
Boris’ Pecan Chicken was novel. For us, anyway. I love pecans and had never seen this dish on any menu in Phoenix metro (although it may have been buried somewhere on some other menu). So, I was intrigued by how this would play out. The dish arrived and the white meat chicken had been cut into slices and mixed with water chestnuts, broccoli spears and pecans. This was all dressed in a mild clear sauce of some sort. We took a bite and declared this the winner of the night. Everything about this dish was perfect. It was subtle and yet the meaty pecans gave it a unique flavor. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the chestnuts and broccoli gave the dish plenty of texture. Fantastic.
After we finished clearing every molecule of food off our plates, we were quite satisfied. Although we thought the appetizers were the weak part of the meal, the main dishes were worth every penny. If I had to rank them, I would say it was the Pecan Chicken first, then the Pineapple Beef followed by the Sesame Chicken. All were outstanding. However, we all agreed that on our next visit, we would scrap the appetizers and just get an addition entree to split.
We asked for the bill and the total was $69.50 which included tax. Service was efficient and professional. Despite running the dining room alone (I am theorizing they cut staff to reduce costs while the PLR is being built), our server always had a smile on her face and kept the cans of Diet Coke flowing.
We said our goodbyes to our server and left. As we meandered around the construction and back onto Camelback to head back to Arcadia, I talked about how much I enjoyed the meal. Boris and Madge both agreed that it was some of the better Chinese food in the Valley. Madge was even over her grumpiness and turned into the bubbly Madge that we all love and adore.
And if the Chinese food at Prime could do that for Madge, I knew for certain it was good stuff.
Prime Chinese Restaurant
24 West Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Hours: Monday through Friday – 11 AM to 2:30 PM and 5 PM to 9 PM; Saturday and Sunday – 5 PM to 9 PM.
Notes: Pay close attention after passing Central Avenue for the feeder lane to the parking lot.