Chou's Kitchen: An Adventure to Northeastern China

Chou's Kitchen isn't just the kind of restaurant that's used to being excluded. It's the kind of restaurant that's used to being excluded twice.

In the Valley, this restaurant's menu of mostly unfamiliar northeastern Chinese cuisine (devoid of Americanized General Tso's chicken, crab wontons, and fortune cookies) might turn less-adventurous diners in the direction of the nearest P.F. Chang's. And in China, where Cantonese, Hunanese, and Sichuanese cuisine are included in the "eight great traditions" of Chinese cuisine, Dongbei cai doesn't even make the cut.

But that doesn't mean there isn't goodness to be had. At Chou's Kitchen, a humble eatery in a strip mall in Chandler, unique dishes — possibly, the only ones of their kind in the Valley — await.

Unique dishes — possibly the only ones of their kind in the Valley — await at Chou's.
Jackie Mercandetti
Unique dishes — possibly the only ones of their kind in the Valley — await at Chou's.

Location Info


Chou's Kitchen

910 N. Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Chandler


Chou's Kitchen
910 North Alma School Road, Chandler
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday

Beef pies (3): $4.98
Green bean jelly with vegetables: $7.98
Eggplant with potatoes and jalapeños: $7.98
Chicken and mushroom warm pot: $11.98

Once known as Manchuria, Dongbei, which consists of the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, extends from Beijing north toward Siberia. Previously home to nomadic tribes, then to various empires and dynasties, Dongbei's cuisine is a virtual melting pot of cooking styles, from native Manchu to northern Chinese to Russian, Korean, and Japanese. And the region's long winter means stocking up on preserved foods, especially through pickling, and cooking food hardy enough to see its residents through the season.

Rice, a food many equate with China, is grown only in small amounts in the northeast. Wheat is the staple crop here, which means a starch-heavy diet — and dough. Lots and lots of dough.

At least that's how Chou's Kitchen owners Tong Rizzo and Ping Chou see it. They say the people of their native Liaoning region are "dough people" and favor dishes like dumplings, fried buns, and meat pies to keep the cold at bay.

Water temperature dictates the dough's suitability to dishes. Hot water means the dough will be flatter and stronger, perfect for Chou's Kitchen's plump, homemade dumplings filled with anything from vegetables and egg to pork, chives, and shrimp. Warm water is used to form the flaky crust of slightly sweet pancakes flecked with scallions. Cold water makes the dough rise more, so it's used in meat pies, which Rizzo calls "Chinese hamburgers." And, my, are they good.

Pan-fried to a luscious golden brown and filled with ginger-kissed beef or pork steeped in a light broth, it's easy to like these hand-held treats, which could work as a snack or an on-the-go breakfast. And they can be dipped into a mix of soy sauce and chili paste for added flavor. During the 2008 summer Olympics, the meat pies in Dongbei were so popular that they were prepared by the thousands and shipped from the region to Beijing as a culinary emissary.

Chou and Rizzo missed the opportunity to make meat pies for the 2008 Summer Games. By then, the two already were in the States. Although they both arrived in 2007, they wouldn't get to know each other until early 2011, when they met at church and began talking about a shared passion for cooking. Ping suggested they open a restaurant near the church. And so they did on March 8, 2011 — International Women's Day, an official holiday in China.

"I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was a little girl helping my mom in the kitchen," Chou told me through a translator. "But in China, you can't choose your career. I worked in hotels for a while and then went to culinary school, worked in restaurants, and had one of my own, but my dream was always to come to America because it is a free country. Now, my dream has come true."

Chou and her partner focus on Liaoning's strong, distinctive flavors, colorful presentations, and soft textures. Each is found at Chou's Kitchen, even if the descriptions on the selection-packed menu do little to sell the dishes.

The rather bland-sounding "cold noodles (spicy)" is actually served at room temperature, the nest of fat noodles alive with sprigs of cilantro, scallions, long slices of cucumbers, peanuts, and a steady heat, thanks to a chili paste. And the cryptic "green bean jelly with vegetables" actually is a northeastern version of a dish popular on the streets of Beijing, featuring a foundation of bouncy cellophane noodles topped with an anything-goes multitude of ingredients. In the case of Chou's Kitchen, a tangle of flat translucent noodles is surrounded on a large platter by colorful piles of carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, ham, egg, and mushrooms. Everything is then tossed with a sharp dressing made of soy sauce, sesame paste, and peanut butter for a deeply satisfying combination of flavor and textures akin to the Chinese version of a Cobb salad.

If you're inclined to pass on the lip-smackingly good cold plate of thin, spicy pieces of tender beef tripe and chewy tendon (the region is well practiced in nose-to-tail dining) tossed with celery, peanuts, and scallions, there exists an animal option of another kind: lao hu cai, or "tiger salad." The listing — "salad with green onion, parsley, and jalapeño" — sorely misrepresents this dish's lively flavor. Cool and colorful, loaded with crunchy veggies, cilantro, and flat tofu noodles, and lightly tossed with a dressing of soy, sugar, and vinegar, its slightly salty taste pairs perfectly with a plate of less-intense fried buns filled with beef or pork.

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Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

I'm embarrassed I didn't know this place existed. Nice piece, great restaurant. These guys deserve even more attention.


Yummy review, Laura! (I'll have to bring it along to make sure I order the correct dishes!) I hope I pronounced everything correctly when I read this aloud for Sun Sounds, a service for persons who cannot read print due to a disability. It airs this Saturday night at 10:00. (If you know of someone who would benefit from this service or would like to support it, please visit