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Meal Ticket - Jan 25, 2012

Asian Cafe Express
Chili Salt and Pepper Crab from Asian Cafe Express

As most of you know by now, we're three days into the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration (those Chinese sure know how to party!). And since it's a 15-day celebration you have no excuse for not joining in on the fun at least once - and no, grabbing a plate of fried rice, chow mein, and orange chicken from Panda Express doesn't count!

Plus why would you want to go there when we have plenty of decent authentic Chinese food restaurants around town? We may not have anything as amazing as Mission Chinese in San Francisco (if only we could get out hands on a couple orders of their Mongolian long beans and stir fried pork jowls right now) but we have a few places that come really close.

As with most Asian restaurants, everyone has their favorite spot and it's difficult to stray from the place where you've been eating since you were a child. The same goes for us - we have our favorites too.

We absolutely love Mesa's Asian Cafe Express . Yes it's located next door to a Subway and orange chicken is on the menu, but if you look past both of those things you'll find the huge Hong Kong menu, which is full of delicious menu items that you won't find at most Chinese food restaurants around town. Hong Kong style bittermelon with short ribs over rice, dry satay sauce combo chow fun, chili chicken wings, spicy vegetables with black mushrooms - we haven't had a bad dish yet. This week, the Hong Kong Cafe is offering Chinese style poached chicken with vegetables. It's a simple dish but a staple for the Chinese New Year and an everyday Chinese comfort food. And if your dining companions aren't as daring, they have a second menu of Americanized Chinese food staples (which are still really good).

But the best thing about Asian Cafe Express is that you can bring your own fresh raw seafood and they will cook it for you. Bring a lobster or two and have the kitchen turn them into a Chinese feast of lobster pan fried noodles or snag one of those cool looking fish that you really want to buy from the Mekong Market (it's right across the street) and let chef Michael Leung turn it into something fabulous. Don't forget to bring your receipt - they won't cook your fish without it.

Wong's Place on Baseline and McClintock in Tempe is another Chinese restaurant with two menus - one for the wimps and another for the daring. The Pink menu is made up of spicy Hunan and Mandarin cuisine while the Blue menu features more Cantonese seafood dishes. We normally stick with the garlic fried shrimp and the delicious pork short ribs off the Blue menu but we never miss out on the flavorful sizzling rice soup from the pink. And if you go, you have to try their pan fried dumplings - they take a little bit longer to prepare but they are well worth the wait.

There is also Great Wall Cuisine if you're in the mood for jelly fish; Com Tam Thuan Kieu for a bowl of blood soup; and Lao Ching Hing for thousand year old eggs!

Don't forget about the Chinese New Year Festival this weekend at the Chinese Cultural Center on 44th Street and if you are looking for more traditional Chinese New Year eats, check out Chow Bella's handy Chinese New Year guide.