When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Heng's Kitchen Location: 66 S. Dobson Road, Mesa Open: About two months Eats: Chinese Price: $10/person
Those who seek top-quality Vietnamese eats have probably already ventured into Mekong Plaza to dine at Hue Gourmet. The counter-service restaurant located in the Asian-themed mini-mall Mekong Plaza has earned a reputation for serving flavorful and affordable Vietnamese cuisine unlike anywhere else in town.
Now Hue has a Chinese restaurant neighbor, one that's also worth a stop during your next Asian market grocery run. Heng's Kitchen, which opened in October, serves a menu of Chinese cuisine with enough options to appeal to Asian food experts and newbies alike.
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The menu isn't yet posted on the wall behind the register but is written on a chalkboard in front of the counter. It won't be much help unless you can read Chinese, but there's a printed menu with English translations if you step up to the register. There are familiar dishes for those who want to play it safe, as well as some options that you probably won't find at your neighborhood Chinese spot.
Scallion pancakes are a simple and popular dish made of dough and sliced scallions (duh) rolled out into a pancake and fried. It's hard not to like any iteration of fried dough, though Heng Kitchen's version came out a little drier and crisper than we like. Nevertheless, they're worth a try for first-time diners.
The shrimp chow mein turned out to be a surprise hit. The chewy egg noodles were flavorful and slightly spicy, just enough to have you reaching for a cup of water but not enough to make you uncomfortable. Simple but satisfying, these noodles alone would have us coming back to Heng's.
Fried green beans were nothing to write home about flavor-wise, though the texture of the snappy vegetables made them enjoyable as a side.
One of the restaurant's bigger draws will undoubtedly be the xiao long bao, or Chinese soup dumplings. For Chinese food aficionados, finding well-done xiao long bao is pretty much the holy grail; the small, delicate dumplings should be bitten into so you can suck out the soup and juices from the inside before eating the whole thing. It's pretty much an art to lift the dumpling without breaking the skin and losing all the precious soup inside.
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Heng's Kitchen's slightly doughy version may not win over the most discerning dumpling fans but the flavor should do the trick for just about everyone else.
Similarly, the restaurant's scallion chicken isn't for everyone. But the cold meat dish is a good choice if you're feeling adventurous. Poached skin-on chicken may not sound immediately appetizing, but the combination of oil, scallions, salt, and vinegar leaves you with lots of flavor and a surprising richness. Over a side of white rice, this chicken is a light but comforting dish.
If you happen to have a Mandarin-speaking friend, it's not a bad idea to bring them along for your first visit to Heng's Kitchen. Though you'll be able to order in English, you'll benefit from recommendations from the friendly staff. It's also worth mentioning that you can order frozen dumplings from Heng's in larger portions, which is just another excuse to make the trip to this hidden gem of a dining spot.