Phoenix roadfood report: old style Chinese food and Lo-Lo's chicken and waffles
I was in Phoenix for a conference last week and had time for two meals on Friday: at Sing High, an old style Chinese-American restaurant (family owned and operated, and established in 1928) and Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles.
Sing High gets a lot of abuse on the various restaurant rating sites, but if you like old fashioned Chinese-American places, this is a must-visit. The name, according to the menu, came about when the grandfather of the current owner was having the original sign painted. He meant to say he wanted it to read "Shanghai," but the painter misunderstood and painted "Sing High," and the name stuck.
The building's close to the criminal justice center, and just a few blocks from the US Airways Center, on Madison between 1st Avenue and Central. The restaurant is a large, no frills "dining hall"-type room, with oil cloth tablecloths, and a big bird cage with a stuffed cardinal right in the middle of the room. I went after the lunch rush (around 2:15), was seated in a booth (my preference), and the service was instantaneous. I had my favorite appetizer, which is almost impossible to find these days: an order of rumaki (six pieces), perfectly cooked, and served with hot mustard and "our own" sweet and sour sauce. I didn't care for the sweet and sour sauce -- it was that gelatinous kind, rather than the thin type which I prefer -- but the rumaki were, as I said, excellent. I also ordered vegetable egg foo young. This is something that is often very badly executed, but I liked Sing High's version, other than the fact that it had chopped celery in it. But the patties were not too thick, and crispy around the edges. I ate the whole order, which I hadn't planned to do. With steamed rice, hot tea and a fortune cookie, it was a fun and filling meal.
Again, this is the old-fashioned kind of Chinese-American place; in fact, the full name of the restaurant is Sing High Chop Suey House. If you want authentic food, stay away.
There are a few concessions to more contemporary dishes from other regions on the menu, but my guess is that the standard chop suey/chow mein dishes are their best work.
Lo-Lo's is included in the roadfood listings on this site, so I won't belabor the points made there. My companion and I went for an early dinner (around 5 p.m.), as we had a commitment in Tempe later in the evening (more about that, below). The service was very quick and very friendly. I had a small meal, because I'd eaten at Sing High earlier that the day -- two fried chicken wings and a waffle, with unsweetened iced tea. My companion was starving, and so had a soul food platter with three pieces of fried chicken, cheese grits, a waffle, and cornbread, as well as iced tea. The meal came with a choice of two side dishes, and he could have chosen something other than a waffle -- but he wanted the waffle.
We both enjoyed our meals. The chicken was deep-fried (I prefer pan-fried), but nevertheless very good, and the waffle was delicious, slathered with butter and with a small pitcher of maple syrup -- and there was honey on the table, if you preferred that. My companion's grits were (was?) laden with butter and cheese, and he liked the cornbread (a big muffin, really) as well.
I can imagine the neighborhood might be a bit dicey at night, but at that hour of the day, it was fine, and we were able to park right in front of the building.
The place is owned by Mrs. White's (of the Golden Rule Cafe) son, I believe. I ate at Mrs. White's in February 2009, and enjoyed it very much, but I liked the flexibility of the menu at Lo-Lo's better.
Unrelated to roadfood tourist tip: the Tempe Center for the Arts has just opened a terrific exhibition of Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones' work, which runs until mid-June. There's a related exhibit at the Sky Harbor airport (Terminal 4, level 3) as well. The exhibits include not only examples of his cartoon art, but one of his Oscars, his office, and some of his oil portraits. The evening we were at the TCA, there was a screening of seven of Jones' most famous cartoons (including "What's Opera, Doc?" "One Froggy Evening," and "Duck Amuck"), introduced by one of Jones' grandsons. And some of the artwork is for sale. http://www.tempe.gov/tca/jones.htm