The Uber driver from Saigon was giving me a lecture on healthcare in US. The only useful information I got from the conversation was the best place to get authentic Cantonese cuisine in LA.
Chinatown’s Phoenix Inn hasn’t changed since 1965 when it opened in Ord Street, where Tom Chang and his family have strived to bring the taste of Hong Kong to LA for over 5 decades. The small restaurant has occupied the same premise even when their younger competitors moved away. One other thing has not changed – its solid, authentic Cantonese fare.
For 30 years, Chef Katai Chang (father of Tom Chang) worked the woks, his wife May worked the books, and they provided for their children by staying open until the wee hours of the morning during the weekends. Even at their old age, the Changs used to visit the very first Phoenix Inn once a week for “quality control”.
Tom Chang, a CPA by trade and now the chief honcho of Phoenix Restaurants, didn’t decide to expand his family restaurant brand until it was 30 years old, as they pivoted the Phoenix brand towards the suburbs, tapping into the now wealthier suburbanites instead of expanding in Chinatown.
All HK chachaanteng and eateries would usually offer 老火靚湯 Chef’s Soup of the Day, which is a whole cauldron of clear soup that would be boiled for hours on end. You cannot replicate this taste at home because of the commercial amount of ingredients used to make the soup. Tonight’s soup was 排骨薏仁湯 pork ribs with barley, which was supposed to beneficial for reducing water retention in the body. Just what I needed from all the flying.
This was one dish I have not seen in Singapore for a long time. It was often served as a second dish for Peking duck in Singapore in the 80s, and then it disappeared and become E-fu noodles instead. 生菜雞鬆 Minced Chicken Lettuce Cups was a variation using minced chicken instead of duck, but it was equally delicious.
豉椒炒蜆 Stir-fry Clams with Black Bean Sauce was usually a hit and miss depending on the freshness of the clams used. This was a hit.
椒鹽雞翼 Spicy Salt Chicken Wings did not succumb to the Western taste. It retained the garlicky and fish sauce taste that we grew up with. One downside though, it would need more marination. The taste was only skin deep.
Loved the fact that they continue to call it malaizhan, the way they refer to it in HK. 馬來盞通心菜 Stir Fried Water Spinach in Malay Sauce was kinda bland after the first few dishes. I would prefer a stronger balachan (fermented prawn paste) taste.
Western restaurants do not serve this method of cooking fish. 清蒸鱈魚 Steamed Chilean Sea Bass Fillet was a welcome sight, and the Chilean sea bass was also referred to as cod fish in Asia. Though not the Norwegian fish, it was still very tasty and fatty.
The second generation owners have expanded into the dessert business with a selection of HK-style desserts and confections.
Something unordinary, 榴槤卷 Durian Rolls were quite nice but not much durian taste. Perhaps I was too spoiled with Musang King durians in Singapore.
And then the more common, 糕點拼盤 Assorted Crème Custard came with four small tasting portions of mango pudding, corn and almond pudding, red glutinous rice pudding and mocha pudding. Not too sweet, they were good eats.
Why change when it is working? Phoenix Inn has kept their menu and food consistent after all these years. The food was nostalgic and tasty, the service was sincere and prompt. The only thing that has changed is the modern management of the restaurant. Let’s keep it that way.
Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine 鳳城
301 Ord St. Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel : +1 (213) 629-2812
Visited in Sep 2022