Growing up in a tiny farming community, eating out was a bit of a luxury, and not just because as my dad liked to remind me, “Restaurants are expensive.” Even if we had won the lottery (we never did), there just weren’t that many options. Surprisingly, our little rural community had one itty-bitty Chinese restaurant. I remember being fascinated by the concept of Column A and Column B, and that your dinner was likely to be called out by a number. It wasn’t General Tso’s Chicken; it was #3. So when my dad decided to loosen his wallet, Chinese was always my choice.
It’s no surprise that I spent years trying to find my favorite Chinese spot in the Valley. It’s also worth noting that the question most commonly asked of me is, “Where is the best Chinese spot in town?” Like all things in Phoenix, good things often close down. As was the case with Silver Dragon. When they closed a couple of years ago, I cried a little. And when I heard they’d opened again, I felt like I was welcoming a long-lost friend. Surely, the spot that garnered 10 consecutive “Best Chinese Restaurant” awards hadn’t lost their mojo.
They have not.
Located next to a Filiberto’s (who will not waste a second having your car towed, should you park in their lot), Silver Dragon’s parking lot is a bit of a trick to access (pro tip: turn into Filiberto’s or else you’ll end up in the 17th Avenue turning lane). Inside you’ll find an immaculately clean spot, run by a very charming family. Their cuisine is Hong Kong style, which means it finds influence from Cantonese cooking, as well as other global influences.
You’ll find these inspirations in dishes like French Style Filet Mignon with Black Pepper Sauce ($13), a rather large dish of impossibly tender bite-sized filet, tossed with mushrooms and onions. The tender, flavorful meat is made more earthy by the mushrooms, and the pepper sauce is a nice compliment to the onions, which are slightly sweet from the wok treatment.
But before I get ahead of myself, please note that Silver Dragon has two menus. Ask for the Chinese menu—it’s much more extensive, and dare I say, authentic and special. While you can order from the Americanized menu, you’ll get American-style cuisine. Not that it’s something to scoff at—dishes like #63, Shrimp with Cashew Nuts ($10.25), are lovingly prepared. A giant plate of perfectly diced veggies and well-cooked shrimp in a light sauce will disappear quickly, and with good reason.
But if you stay on that menu, you’ll miss things like Sui Kui Soup ($6.95), a Hong Kong–style soup dumpling. Tender pasta wraps the tasty dumpling, loaded with huge hunks of shrimp, ground pork and veggies, which floats in a tasty and warming broth. It’s a pleasant appetizer for two, or even a wonderful dinner.
I’m a huge fan of the Scallops with Chinese Vegetable and Milk Puffs ($12). Gorgeous scallops are cooking perfectly, releasing just enough sweet flavor to complement the milk puffs—a dessert-like cream puff minus the filling. With just a hint of umami flavor, these milk puffs manage to say “dinner” not “dessert.” The veg is nothing to sneeze at here, either—a robust handful of well-cooked Chinese broccoli makes this dish feel healthy.
Fans of noodle dishes will enjoy the Singapore-style flat rice noodle in curry sauce ($9.50). Impossibly thin noodles appear, slightly yellow from the mild curry. Pieces of chicken, pork and shrimp dot the landscape, and the scent of Chinese five spice wafts from the dish. This is the perfect intro to curry for the uninitiated. A gentle hand keeps the curry from overpowering the shrimp and delicate noodles, and this dish has the added perk of being large enough to feed a small army.
Crispy Hong Kong–style chicken ($10.50 for a half chicken) manages to blend the crispy skin of a Peking Duck with the more gentle flavor of chicken. Their choice of a leaner chicken means I enjoyed the skin bits. There’s a tendency for crispy skin to go rubbery if there is too much fat. Not here—the skin is crispy to the end. Their kitchen pays such attention to detail that this entree comes with a small dish of house salt, which tastes faintly of soy sauce. I am deeply tempted to volunteer to wash dishes for a shift to learn how this is made.
As for the service? The very kind and attentive family pays attention to what is happening and how you are enjoying the meal. On one visit, we’d ordered far too much food, and our inability to finish any dish did not go unnoticed. They were relieved to know we loved them, we’d just ordered too much. Glasses get refilled immediately, you’ll get help navigating the menu to find your perfect dish, and leftovers are boxed by the staff.
I missed Silver Dragon when they were away. Happily, they are back and firing on all cylinders. I’m overjoyed to have my favorite Chinese spot back—a culinary home away from home. And with such generous portions of high-quality ingredients, even my father couldn’t say, “It’s too expensive.”
1739 W. Glendale, Phoenix
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.