What can you expect from a dimly lit place behind a vast, dilapidated parking lot?
When I first visited Peking Garden, I expected undercooked stir-fry covered in soy sauce, tables and floors covered in grease and servers with semi-legible Mandarin and English. I was proven right only on the last two.
I wasn’t immediately impressed with the food. First, I ordered soup noodles, which were decent. Then, I had roast duck chow fun. Stir-frying roast duck felt sinful to me, but I was impressed by how well the flavors went together: smoky, lightly sweetened roast duck was the perfect addition to the chow fun freshly fried with oil and soy sauce. The orange-red color of roast duck also made the dish feel less pale than a regular chow fun, it felt bourgeoisie.
After that, I tried more off Peking Garden’s extensive menu. The tofu in hong siu tofu has a heavenly texture, matched with minced pork and mushrooms in a savory brown sauce. This simple dish goes well with a huge bowl of rice. There’s also Peking roast duck. This exquisite national dish is messed up at Peking Garden, but to an extent, it’s still pleasantly edible. The steamed pancakes, supposedly as thin as lotus leaves, taste like a burrito. Additionally, the sauce is served in a plastic bottle, which made the process much more convenient. However, the duck itself is of solid quality, properly cut with crispy skin and retained fat. There are many more dishes on Peking Garden’s menu that make it a perfect place to go with three to five people and share a tableful of food.
American-Chinese restaurants generally provide good buffets, and Peking Garden continues that tradition. Its $8.88 lunch buffet is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and really makes you wonder if a $9 Café Mac meal is worth it. In fact, apart from Tea Garden’s authentic weekend brunch buffet, I have never had a better Chinese buffet in the Twin Cities. Peking Garden’s buffet items include familiar dishes like sweet and sour chicken, cream cheese wonton and egg foo young, but what really makes them stand out are two veggie dishes: deep fried tofu with red and green pepper, and fried baby bok choy. The tofu crust is crispy with a taste of salt and pepper, and the peppers are fried soft but retain their flavor. The baby bok choy are cleanly cut in halves, fried with garlic until fully cooked. These delicately cooked veggies are vital side dishes to a plateful of fried meat. Providing a buffet is all about rhythm and balance, and there is no better place than Peking Garden in this regard.
With two TVs streaming sports, extra sweet Pepsi, loud talks and people of different race and dressing styles, the ambience at Peking Garden is consistent with its appearance. Most of the dishes mentioned in this article aren’t going to be found anywhere other than America, in a crevice of culture where these American-Chinese culinary creations are nurtured and thriving. That is why I am always happy to eat at Peking Garden.
Peking Garden is located at 1488 University Ave W in St. Paul.