Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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2728 N. Classen Blvd.
What works: The beautifully remodeled dining room with the same authentic and delicious Asian food.
What needs work: A menu that’s intimidating in its length and obscure descriptions.
The tip: It’s possibly the best Asian food in the entire state.
On Jan. 11, a blaze fed by 60 mph winds raced across the roof of Golden Phoenix. Oklahoma City firefighters brought the fire under control, but not before enough damage was done to halt the restaurant’s operation, along with the adjoining Asian grocery.
Personally supervising the reconstruction contracting, owner Larry Lee reopened both businesses in May.
“It was like a blessing in disguise,” said manager Jason Xa. “There was an opportunity to remodel, modernize and expand the dining room.”
Although the fancy new sign hasn’t yet been installed out front, inside it’s like an all-new restaurant.
Still, there are some familiar sights. The glass case containing whole roasted ducks, chickens and pork is there, along with oversized aquariums holding live lobsters and tilapia to select for your meal. Also unchanged is the restaurant’s commitment to preparation of high-quality authentic Asian cooking.
“Our main objective is to serve good food and provide good service,” Xa said.
What sets Golden Phoenix apart is that there is no attempt to modify recipes for Western tastes.
Located in the heart of the city’s Asian district, the eatery’s culinary philosophy is reflected in the customer base. The dishes are of a level found in Taipei, Vancouver or San Francisco, rather than the American Midwest.
This is not standard-issue, all-youcan-eat Chinese fare.
You’ll find recognizable items here, but it’s all fresh and cooked to order using traditional condiments, spices and flavorings.
Lee and Xa wisely made the decision to keep their seasoned Vietnamese and Chinese chefs on the payroll for the months that the Golden Phoenix was grounded.
Since re-opening, business has increased by a third. This is the place to impress your out-of-town visitors with how exotically sophisticated OKC can be.
Golden Phoenix’s menu can be overwhelming. It’s 15 pages and lists 325 separate and numbered items.
Unfamiliar dishes such as female capelin with salt and pepper ($8.95) compete for your attention alongside the more well-known sweet-and-sour chicken ($7.95) or beef with snow peas ($7.95).
“I love to recommend things for people,” Xa said. “We answer questions and make suggestions for our customers.”
Tell your server what you like — veggie or what kind of meat, spicy or not, Chinese or Vietnamese — and take the direction provided.
If you’d rather spend 40 minutes reading the menu, however, go for it. Seemingly peculiar contradictions abound. Frog leg with creamy butter ($12.95) is listed under chicken dishes. Supreme chicken soup with rice noodle ($6.95) is below the heading “Rice Noodle Beef Soup” dishes.
As for what to order, it just depends on how adventurous you want to be.
Everything appears to be prepared with care and fresh ingredients. Goat in hot pot ($24.95) or jellyfish salad ($13.95) goes way beyond the familiar boundaries in which many grew up.
Fried tofu with eggplant in garlic sauce ($7.95) is a vegan delight. The sweet, velvety vegetable was sliced with purple skin left on, then sautéed alongside big chunks of mahoganycolored tofu. The result is a good contrast of textures and mild sesame oil flavor.
“That has become a very popular dish with vegetarians,” Xa said.
Pan-fried, salted squid ($9.95) is Asian calamari. The difference is a liberal lacing of scallions and jalapeños.
It will be difficult bypassing this dish to try new things on return trips.
And there will be return trips.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.