Austin, TX 78731
REVIEW – Downtown Location
REVIEW – Bee Caves Location
One of the more consistent dining pleasures in Austin for the last 30 years has been the often imitated but never duplicated fare at Ronald Cheng’s Chinatown restaurants. Ronald almost single-handedly pioneered a dramatic change in our local Chinese cuisine from a bunch of sleepy mom and pop places, where #8 or #4 (fill in the blanks and add eggroll, fried rice, and a soup to the entree) were the standards, to a bustling energetic and wildly innovative kind of Chinese restaurant never before seen in Austin. We’re talking dishes from all the major provinces in China with flavors ranging from searing to mellow, and presentation the likes of which Austin had never seen. In fact, Chinatown has been in our Top 20 since we began Dining Out with Rob Balon in 2001.
Aside from the great flavors and killer visual appeals to Chinatown’s food, they are always experimenting and introducing new flavors and dishes. And that’s what we want to show you today.
Tradition mandates that we begin with appetizers, and there are some stunning new preparations. The Szechuan Leek and Shrimp Dumplings are simply delicious: light and almost gossamer they would be the envy of any dim sum feast. And do try the Braised Pork Belly with Garlic Soy Sauce. Nobody harnesses these savory and aromatic flavors better than Ronald. This is first bite bliss, and the tenderness of this dish will amaze you.
The Shrimp and Scallop Lettuce Wrap is a perfect late summer dish. Not only is it low in carbs, but this is not your run of the mill lettuce wrap. The sauteed shrimp and scallops along with water chestnut and Thai chili see to that. Crunchy goodness in each bite here.
Then it is imperative that you try the Grilled Salmon salad. You begin with a perfectly grilled salmon served over a spring salad. They adorn this with fried strips of salmon skin that can be dipped win the accompanying honey, walnut, lemon and sesame dressing. OMG!
Another new dish that rocked my world was the Imperial Noodles. These ramen noodles served with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts with an over-easy egg on top and a light soy are just ridiculously good. The dish presents beautifully and tastes even better.
The new entrees continue the trend of evolving and layered tastes. The Flaming Chicken (while not actually flaming) might as well be because the sauteed chicken in ginger, green onions and dry pepper in a spicy brown sauce is on the mercurial side and I loved every bite of it. Great new dish. Also got a huge kick out of the Cantonese Walnut Shrimp. This dish bears no resemblance to the mayonnaise-laden affairs one sees at other Chinese places. This is quick-fried shrimp with a very light sweet and sour mayo, and that makes for a much lighter dish that is infinitely appealing on these still hot days we’re having. The Gluten-Free Smoked Ham Fried Rice is another keeper. Only Chinatown could take what appears to be a somewhat pedestrian dish, and turn it magical. This amalgam of smoked ham, corn, egg and onion fried rice is quite simply irresistible. You won’t be able to put it down. Also worth trying is the Japanese Salt and Pepper Soft Tofu. Crispy and mellow, the tofu is enhanced with jalapenos, onions and shallots. It has the deft touch of the master which elevates it to a new level.
You don’t stay atop the charts for 30 years by resting on your laurels. Chinatown is always evolving and Ronald, Steve, Jimmy and the team make sure of that. What you’ve seen today are some of the newer ideas. But rest assured. there will be more!