Friday, August 21, 2009

Princess Garden: BEST Chinese Restaurant in Kansas City

The presumption encompassed in that title is staggering. Here I am, a middle-aged guy who's lived most of his life in Kansas City, has never set foot in Asia, much less China, and never studied Chinese cuisine.

The absurdity is heightened by the very title I want to award. Best Chinese Restaurant?? Is there a best American restaurant? Is it a cajun seafood steakhouse with Philly cheese-steaks and funnel cakes? We can't even agree on a best Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant, but I'm blithely going to choose one restaurant to represent the cuisine of a billion-plus people in 8 Great Traditions?

You betcha! The significance of a writer's proclamations lies in the eyes of the beholder. It's not whether you agree or disagree with me - it's whether you read it and give it a second thought.

All that philosophizing aside, the indisputable winner (even though I've only visited probably a dozen or so of the options here in KC) is Princess Garden on Wornall.

Princess Garden is a classic of the genre. Carved Chinese marble lions greet you from the parking lot at 8906 Wornall, and the decor of red and gold looks exactly like a typical restaurant in Beijing, Shanghai or Xi'an - at least to me it does. The carpet, the paintings, even the darkened, empty bar off to the right of the pay stand all scream real China, at least as imagined by Kansas Citians.

The drink menu is a hoot. Fresh from the early 70s, it features My Tais, Fog Cutters and a wide range of elaborate concoctions, with a page titled "Strong, for those who enjoy drinking." The alcoholic fantasyland is heightened by descriptions like "Shark's Tooth - the bite of this drink is so sharp and quick that you won't feel a thing" and "Princess Garden Express - You will feel the hit by this extraordinary drink - try it and experience yourself." Alas, I'm a beer drinker, so I haven't experienced myself yet.

But the food is the attraction, and the food is great. In our most recent trip (when the kids were in town - this is a nostalgic favorite for them, even though Sam gets to eat in NYC's Chinatown), we had the crab rangoon and the steamed dumplings. Both are exactly what you would expect from a good Chinese restaurant - nothing super fancy, nothing to elevate the genre to a whole new level with challenging and intriguing tastes and textures - simply solid, competent examples of what you would expect.

As always, we got the Crunchy Beef as an entree. I haven't seen this on other menus, but it is pieces of beef the size of shoe-string potatoes, fried to a crispy exterior and served with mu shu pancakes in a sticky sauce. Rich, decadent and wonderful.

We also had a dish with an impossibly long title, including words such as "sizzling", "yellow noodles" and "double faced" - it was spectacular. The noodles are both tender and crispy, depending on how soaked they are in the light sauce, and covered with chicken, shrimp and vegetables.

As I hope I made clear in the first paragraphs, I have no business offering superlatives about Chinese restaurants. And I can say with legitimacy and integrity is that Princess Garden is a family favorite, with food that satisfies and always meets or exceeds our midwestern expectations. The staff is friendly, and the service is good. I don't know if it is authentic or not. I just know that our family has had many, many happy meals there, and I recommend it to anyone who is wants food that is as far from chic as it is from Beijing.

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Blogger m.v. said...

it take courage around here to NOT repeat that Bo Lings is the best

8/21/2009 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been going to Princess Gardens for over 25 years. It is the best and a well hidden treasure on Wornall. We love it.

8/21/2009 10:41 AM  
Blogger The DLC said...

I haven't been in a while but the service is really friendly. I've never eaten any authentic stuff there but the typical Chinese-American dishes are well done.

8/21/2009 1:06 PM  
Blogger Well Hell Michelle said...

I love Princess Garden. They have awesome Empress chicken and shrimp.

8/21/2009 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Michelle says it is great, then I will listen. She is correct, not right, about everything!

8/23/2009 10:47 PM  
Blogger CecilC said...

It has been at least 35 years since I last ate there, and I still have very fond memories of many a great dinner at the Princess.

8/24/2009 6:00 AM  

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