Montgomery Chinese Food: A Surge of Excellence

By on 6 February, 2014 in Food, Kate and Stephen, Restaurant Reviews with 6 Comments

What could Chinese food in Montgomery possibly have to do with Alabama’s unemployment rate? Allow us to explain.

While people often celebrate a decrease in the unemployment rate, the statistic can often be misleading because it only accounts for people who are looking for work but unable to find it. That means that if enough people get frustrated with the economy and quit looking for jobs, the employment rate can go down but still reflect bad economic news. It’s really all about available labor force. Nobody wins when people give up.

And that’s how we felt about Chinese food in Montgomery. We had given up hope of finding greatness. We had just stopped looking.

However, recently, something great happened. We found some great Chinese food. Our optimism was rekindled. We started giving other Chinese restaurants a chance. And we found another good one! And another! We’re on a roll here, and we’re glad to report on the good things that we’ve been finding. We’re still a long way from having as much outstanding Chinese food as we have Korean food. But we’re making progress.

What broke through our well-crafted wall of despair? It all started with a restaurant called Chin Chin (3449 Malcolm Drive). When it opened in 2012, we knew of it from its Atlanta location. It was great in Atlanta and they brought their high standards of excellence to Montgomery. An entire novel could be devoted to the massive menu, which ranges from Thai food to sushi to the chef’s specialties, which are more in the Chinese style. We were particularly enamored of the vegetarian specialties, which are around 20 dishes with not a single mistake among them. They carry a wide spectrum of fake meats and know the difference between seitan and soy protein. If you’re not vegetarian, trust us. In Montgomery, this is a revelation of serious import.

But you don’t have to do without meat in order to enjoy Chin Chin. Their menu ranges from seafood to filet mignon and duck. Everything we have ever ordered there is amazingly fresh and tastes all the better for being served in a well-decorated and laid back atmosphere. The service is great and everything is reasonably priced, considering the quality of what you’re getting. Our only gripe is that it is so far out east. If this thing were closer to the heart of Midtown, it would be in the running for the restaurant we visit the most.

Inspired by the discovery of Chin Chin, we decided to branch out again. But where? The crucial portent came from the indispensable Montgomery restaurant blog Lunch in the Gump. LitG is mostly a vibrant Facebook page now, but it is great and suggested that we check out a place called Fung Mei (2801 Vaughn Plaza Rd.). It’s near where Vaughn Rd. intersects with the Boulevard (same shopping center as India Palace). We went at sort of a weird time. The place was empty at 2 p.m., but we were starving. Half expecting to be turned away and told that lunch was over, we were excited when they turned on some lights and seated us. They brewed another batch of sweet tea just for us and we took LitG’s recommendation and ordered the pan-fried noodles. Huge. Success.

The food was great. The service was attentive without being meddling — just perfect for being the only folks in a restaurant who interrupted the chef’s lunch to demand General Tso’s tofu and some seafood noodles. The latter was one of the top three Asian dishes we have ever had in this city. Highly recommended. It’s tough to pinpoint what exactly made the seafood pan fried noodles so outstanding, but it may start with the care required to put fresh mussels in the warm and complex broth. Also the crunch at the bottom of the noodles.

The menu had the usual fare for the less adventurous (for those devotees of the sweet and sour chicken out there), but the waitress gave us a knowing nod when we ordered from the specials list. “You can’t just get this kind of food anywhere,” she told us. She is correct.

The trifecta of Chinese food was nailed this week when we decided to stop by the Panda Inn (4023 Mitchell Dr.) after a quick hit on the Publix next door. We grabbed two things to go: Schzuan tofu and some spicy broccoli and vegetables. The latter was the better of the two, but both were quickly prepared and not at all greasy, which is often to be expected from those places with 150 things on the strangely-standardized menu. One of the best parts of the offerings at Panda Inn is that they are all affordable. Our two entrees included rice and we ordered one fountain soft drink and ended up around $15. Pretty decent.

It wasn’t the best lunch ever, but it was head and shoulders above our previous experiences with Chinese food in our fair city — certainly good enough that if we were on Atlanta Highway again around mealtime, we’d stop by for sure. We even got the idea that it was the kind of place where the chef might be willing to improvise a bit. We have no proof of that, but everything was fresh and there were a wide range of options, so we might just go in next time and mention that we like tofu and broccoli and super spicy things and see what they come up with.

We’ve heard rumors of a seriously good new Chinese restaurant where Ann Street hits Madison, and that’s next on our list. For now, we’re happy to report on our discoveries.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 6 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Heather says:

    You haven’t tried my new favorite! https://www.facebook.com/MrChenMontgomery And the market is awesome!

  2. Jay Croft says:

    Sweet tea in a Chinese restaurant? Heresy!

    REAL Chinese tea is brewed at Panda Wok, across the street on McGehee Road in the strip mall where Moody’s Hardware used to be. And the soups are absolutely awesome. As are the entrees.

  3. Dan says:

    Anything further on those “rumors of a seriously good new Chinese restaurant where Ann Street hits Madison”? I live a couple of blocks from there, but I’ve heard nothing about that alleged possibility.

    • admin says:

      Hi Dan, it turns out that there is a seriously good Chinese restaurant called Mr. Chen’s, and a market, but we were wrong about the location – it’s out on Atlanta Highway where it hits the Boulevard.

      • Dan says:

        Ah, cool then. Those guys I know about; just haven’t been there yet. Given my own vegetarian leanings, I definitely need to check them out.

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