Monday, January 16, 2012

Chou's Kitchen - Chandler, AZ

This past Sunday, Tara and her sister went to Tucson to visit with their grandmother before she heads back to Minnesota this week. I was in the mood for something Dim Sum-ish, but going solo to Dim Sum just limits the variety too much. This post in the New Times earlier in the week intrigued me. Hamburger-sized dumplings? Count me in. So I Googled Map-ped Chou's Kitchen and headed down.

Lucky for me I'm very familiar with the Ray/Alma School intersection. There's a Goodwill store there that I've been to many times. Chou's is on the south end of the shopping center. It's a tiny place, with maybe 10 or 12 tables. The basic space's layout reminded me a lot of Acacia Cafe, for those who know the Arcadia spot (a favorite of Tara, btw). When I walked in the door, it was plain that it's popular with the Asian community. Every table was taken or needed to be bussed, as a large group had just left. And I was the sole caucasian in the place, until a couple came in immediately behind me. Generally I take it as a VERY good sign when an Asian restaurant is packed with Asians.

The waitstaff seemed a bit overwhelmed, so I wondered if they saw a upturn in business since the article came out. The other white folks mentioned they'd seen it as well, but some of the patrons were definetly regulars. I'm guessing, since Chinese dialects were literally all I could see and nearly all signs were in Chinese characters as well. Thankfully, the menu had English names as well.

Chou's Kitchen serves mainly dumpling-esque specialties from a northern province of China. Read the New Times article for the exact locations. Nearly all the main dishes are dumplings of some type. The also have some soups, cold dishes, hot pots, and noodles as well. I was targeting the meat pies pictured in the New Times article. I ordered the pork meat pies (three) and fried beef buns (six). Both were $4.98. There was a soda fountain in the corner, but it was either broken or for decoration, as my Pepsi arrived in a can.

The Fried Beef Buns arrived first. They came on a plate upside-down, and had been fried together. The texture of the bun was somewhere between a steamed pork bun and pan-fried dumpling at dim sum. They were sweet, with the filling reminding me a bit of gyoza. They were very good and I initially was going to save some to take home. The pork pies took a LONG time. The table seated before me ordered over a 1/2 dozen dishes. My buns came out just after that table's first few dishes. The pork pies were taking so long I thought they'd been forgotten. I was hungry, so the rest of the beef buns made the ultimate sacrifice. But damn, they were good. There were six in the order. Two just didn't make it into the photo.

Finally, the pork pies arrived. They were screaming hot, so I had to let them cool. There is some broth inside the wrapping, so it's very easily to get scalded if you aren't careful. The wrappers were nicely browned. They are a lot like regular dumpling, just flattened with a broth inside. The meat seasoning is similar as well. Once they'd cooled, I started nibbling carefully and really enjoyed them. They are about the size of hamburger patties, so I only managed to eat one and a half before getting a box for the leftovers.

The other table of non-Asians called the waitress over to ask if their beef pies were forgotten. The waitress let them know that the meat pies take the longest of all their items to cook. The wait is well worth it, though. I've been to my share of Chinese restaurants and many Dim Sum meals, but I've never seen this particular item. The other table hadn't either. It's well worth hunting down Chou's to give them a try.

The service is very friendly, but I think the kitchen is small, so orders can take some time. Don't come in expecting a speedy, Pei Wei-type experience. Come in, relax, and just enjoy something a bit different. Like Dim Sum, coming with a small group so you can order a variety of items is probably your best bet. I believe they are open 7 days, but I can't remembe their exact hours. No website unfortunately.

I definitely plan on going back. There are a lot of items that intrigued me and sounded quite good.

Chou's Kitchen
910 N Alma School Rd, Chandler

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