Crispy Pork Chops and Peking Noodles are both Musts at Empress Garden

Empress Garden certainly doesn’t stand out from any other Chinatown joints based on looks. Though the signage indicates Mandarin and Szechuan style food, they also serve Taiwanese dishes, making Empress Garden more unique. The crowded menu shows off countless preparations for pork, beef, seafood, chicken, and noodles. A good part of the menu is written in Mandarin and includes items that are not offered on the English menu. A Chowhound poster graciously provided some translations. My waitress was very helpful at confirming I was ordering the dishes that I had in mind.  Most entrees are 5- 8 bucks and make a nice sized and cheap lunch; lunch specials are available during the week that come with rice and soup. I tried a lunch special along with some irresistible items off the regular menu.

The Hunan Chicken lunch special is many notches above average Chinese fare.  The pieces of chicken themselves were not exceptionally exciting, but the the mildly spicy soy sauce with  a hint of black bean stood out; I made sure to saturate the rice on the side with the sauce. The chicken was accompanied by carrots, snow peas, water chestnuts, and peppers. No complaints about the side of hot and sour soup.

A fine lunch special, but would not induce such a speedy return trip like the other two dishes I tried.

I was looking forward to finally trying Zha jiang mian, the Chinese version of one of my favorite Korean dishes- Jajangmyeon. The basic equation of both version is, noodles + a brown meat sauce= good. The dish is listed as Peking Noodles with Meat Sauce under the “Northern China Style Noodle” section of the menu. I found the Chinese version to be less salty and lighter, the Korean versions I have tried have more of a dark, hoisin  flavor. I was pleasantly surprised that the squishy noodles were home-made. They don’t cheap out on the meat sauce, there is tons of the good stuff, but it manages to never overpower those noodles. With all of the tofu, scallion, and pork inside the thick brown sauce- this is an ideal lunch. The large portion is under $7.

The pork chops are ridiculous. Just ask for “fried pork chops”; you can order them over rice or  as is. The white meat was bursting with flavor and  matched with the perfect fry job. I was impressed to find zero grisly-chewy pieces. With every juicy bite I heard my arteries crying, but that was not enough to prevent me from devouring piece after glorious piece. Bring a friend to share with, because you probably shouldn’t polish this off by yourself.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Super- addicting fried pork chops (those watching their weight could see this as a negative)
  • I found my spot for Zha jiang mian!
  • I have been looking for a spot that serves Taiwanese food
  • Secret menus excite me, I will come equipped to conquer it and get the meal I want

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • I can’t read Chinese and a secret Chinese menu makes me sad that I am left out from ordering legit dishes
  • Many of the menu items are standard fare you could get anywhere. So if you order wrong, you could be bored.

Empress Garden, 108 N. 10th St (@ Arch St), 215-592-0739



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