MR. CHEN’S // MORE THAN A RESTAURANT

As someone with both Filipino and Chinese heritage, my parents always made it my mission to find the most authentic Asian restaurants and markets when available. Enter Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking & Oriental Market. Opened since 2012, the eatery has provided Tuscaloosans with the authentic flare of Chinese cuisine. Those local to the Birmingham area may recognize Mr. Chen’s as part of the original Hoover-based company.
The main entrance of Mr. Chen’s welcomes patrons to the fairly large oriental market. I was pleasantly surprised by the nostalgic smells of various Asian candies, spices, and novelty snacks like dried squid strips and tamarind candies. To my right I noticed the restaurant entrance and hostess waiting to take me and my husband to our table. Given the option for traditional fork and spoon utensils versus chopsticks, I kindly asked for both. I was happy to see the adequate amount of seating in the restaurant area as well as the stark contrast in ambiance compared to the market side of Mr. Chen’s. Dark wood tables, subtle lighting, and Asian décor including bamboo stalks and oriental paintings made the restaurant atmosphere worthy of a date night despite the harsh fluorescent lighting happening on the other side of the business.
Reviewing the menu, I quickly went for the standard lunch options available and opted for Kung Pao chicken with fried rice, an egg roll, and egg drop soup. After making our order, I regretted my choices as carts of large seafood clay pots and authentic tapioca milk tea were taken to the various Asian patrons in the restaurant. Our soup came fairly quickly and I was satisfied with the flavors and temperature of the egg drop soup. And though my husband ordered the cashew chicken made extra spicy, our entrees looked virtually the same when brought to the table. I was impressed with the quickness of our food delivery but realized that the quality of the fried rice paid for the swift food prep. The flavors of my actual entrée were enjoyable; however, I found the rice to be nothing more than steamed rice with a tan of soy sauce.
Our server was good to bring anything we needed while balancing between hovering and good service. I got the impression that the staff likes to get diners in and out as quickly as possible. My husband and I ate quickly and made our way to explore the market after paying for our meal.
Walking the aisles of the grocery I found rows of various Asian ingredients including fresh produce and frozen products that are uncommon to your neighborhood market. My favorite finds were the unique soup-based blends such as tamarind, crab, and ginger. Those that love the heat of Siracha will enjoy the 8.5 pound containers of fresh chili paste for purchase.
Overall, I would like to visit Mr. Chen’s again. For a restaurant that boasts authentic Chinese cooking, I regret not being more adventurous in my food selection. However, I appreciate the restaurants attempt to keep classic “American Chinese” dishes available to meet the needs of the various palates in Tuscaloosa. The prices were affordable, the service is quick, and the variety of food available is bountiful. Foodies will also enjoy the unique ingredients available in the market and the cost-effective prices of the produce compared to traditional grocery stores in town.
Mr. Chen’s is located in the Parkview Plaza Shopping Center next to Oz music and open from 11:00 a.m. till 9:00 p.m. daily. Tweet us @ThePlanetWeekly and let us know where you are eating!
Sheena Gregg, MS, RDN,LD is a registered dietitian and local “Filipino foodie.” Follow her on Twitter @AFilipinoFoodie

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