Super Dragon, I know, sounds like one of those fantastic drawings Jon Heder does while portraying ultra-nerd Napoleon Dynamite in the flick of the same name. You know, like Napoleon's "liger," a cross between a male lion and a female tiger that, according to Wikipedia.org, actually does exist in the animal kingdom, though it looks nothing like Napoleon's wigged-out version.
Okay, I'm stretching here, but is it really so odd that the best neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Phoenix should call to mind my favorite film comedy since Happy Gilmore? A little, but let's put it this way, if you've never seen Napoleon Dynamite, you need to rent the bugger and watch it straight through with a whole bucket of Tater Tots for snacks. And if you've never been to Super Dragon, you need to pay a visit, so you have some yardstick for measuring your own barrio's Chinese joint.
I wouldn't put it out there that Super Dragon is necessarily destination dining. But if you're like me, and you live about 10 minutes or so away, SD's one you should absolutely put into heavy rotation. The 6-year-old eatery, co-owned by the sprite-like Kam Li and her business partner and chef Ken Kwok, balances traditional Cantonese and Szechwan plates -- the kind that would satisfy their fellow Hong Kong expats -- with dishes expressly aimed at American taste buds. So if you happen to be dining with the less-than-adventurous, they can eat the bland-ish sweet-and-sour pork, while you dive into the spicy twice-cooked pork, with its mix of Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and quarter-sized water chestnuts, all in a garlicky-spicy mélange of hoisin sauce and chili oil.
Super Dragon Restaurant
1212 East Northern Avenue
Cold jellyfish: $5.95
Peking style pork chop: $7.75
X.O. string beans: $6.95
Braised duck w/mixed veggies: $10.50
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4 to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 10:30 p.m.
Eating with the non-gourmands is something we all have to do from time to time. And while you may be able to share a plate of Super Dragon's golden, brick-size fried tofu or even a tame platter of cashew chicken with them, the meat dumplings are really for timid noshers. For those like me, they're the weakest link on Super Dragon's menu. See if you can lead your timorous charges toward the BBQ spareribs or the BBQ pork slices when it comes to appetizers. These should satisfy both those who know Anthony Bourdain by sight as well as those who will confuse the chef, writer and TV personality with some cast member from Grey's Anatomy. Have some dental floss ready at home after you munch out on the chewy, slightly dry spareribs. If Madonna were gnawing on these, she'd need a crowbar to get the swine out of the gap between her two front teeth.
Now that you've satisfied the plebeian palates of your pals, order the cold jellyfish and the X.O. string beans for yourself. Those whose tongues are set permanently on "Anglo" will squirm away from these quicker than Cindy Sheehan can verbally bitch-slap John McCain, leaving all the more for us happy few. The first is a scrumptious, jiggling mass of jellyfish strips, piled on the plate almost like see-through linguine, in a light sesame sauce with Chinese radish (or daikon) and carrot. I like to have a little dish of chile flakes in oil next to me so I can add some to this gelatin-like mass as I please. Despite the name, the X.O. string beans are smothered not in Courvoisier but rather in a concoction of bacon, dried shrimp, dried scallops, and garlic. The result is sweet, and has a sardine-like taste to it.
It's a good thing Daffy Duck is not as popular as he was back in pre-SpongeBob yesteryear, because if he were still around now, my kisser would be suction-cupped to the boob tube -- that's how much I adore the succulent canard. I haven't set teeth on better duck in the Valley than at Super Dragon, whether it's: a) Peking-style with crispy skin, scallions, Chinese crepes and thick plum sauce; b) roasted by itself; or c) braised with mixed veggies, the juicy skin still affixed to that fowl, and drenched all over in a savory gravy. You may notice that Super Dragon won a New Times Best of Phoenix Award for "Best Cantonese-Style Duck," and I confess to having had a little bit to do with that.
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Other noshes of note at Super Dragon include the Peking style pork chop, the walnut prawns and the house chow fun. I only tried the Peking style pork chop recently, and already I'm a devotee. Rather than one big pork chop, you get pieces of several, deep-fried in an egg batter, then drenched in a sweet red sauce, made tangy with a touch of Worcestershire, and visually vibrant with a small sea of white onion slices.
Walnut prawns I've had dozens of times elsewhere, usually at Chinese wedding banquets, where the dish is almost always served -- at least in my experience, and I've been to quite a few in my day! Super Dragon's is superlative, mainly because it doesn't go overboard on the mayo/condensed-milk/lemon-juice sauce that covers these fat, reddish prawns. Served on a bed of honey walnuts sprinkled with sesame seeds, it's nearly rich enough to be a dessert. Terribly delish, but I feel I should only eat them with my cardiologist on speed dial! The house chow fun is another one I almost want for dessert instead of my fortune cookie. These flat noodles are served with cod, shrimp, scallops, baby bok choy, chicken, squid, pork, and a little oyster and soy sauce stirred in for added flavor.
All of the above is best with a pot of hot jasmine tea as your beverage, though I do wish Super Dragon offered black tea as well, which I prefer. No complaints with Super Dragon's service, though, which is doting. Or with the fact that it stays open seven nights a week until 10:30 p.m., which in this town positively passes for late-night dining. Too many places start closing up shop after 9 p.m. on the weekdays, and Super Dragon has wisely positioned itself to catch those who want to eat dinner later than that.
Super Dragon's also dead cheap. Why, I've gone in there with a friend for dinner, had three entrees with a couple of apps and pot after pot of tea, and ended up skating for about $50. For that price, in pleasant environs with linen-topped tables and wine-colored booths, this Dragon is more than just super. As Napoleon Dynamite might describe it, it's "sweet!"