Steve's Gastronomic Home Page

Chinese Palace Restaurant

8320 Dyer St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 757-1138

The Chinese Palace exterior has not changed much in 25 years

Chinese Palace celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2005, but the building and the décor look a lot older than that. When it opened I think it was "the" Chinese restaurant in northeast El Paso, although Korean food was available at about the same time. Chinese Palace also opened at a time when the most accepted Chinese food by the public was the old style Americanized Cantonese food--chop suey, chow mein, egg fu yung, and sweet and sour pork. It is still most popular for its Americanized Chinese food, although some traditional Cantonese dishes at the restaurant have kept me going back long past the time when my taste buds have outgrown American style chop suey.

For a number of years Chinese Palace was most famous for its lunch specials that offered the Americanized dishes at dirt cheap prices and at better quality than other El Paso Chinese restaurants. All of the dishes that used to be served on the lunch specials are still available on the menu, but of course the prices have now increased. I do not remember if the restaurant served bread with the lunch specials, but everything else was exactly the same as any 1960's style Americanized Cantonese restaurant in any city throughout the U.S.

During these years the one dish that got me "hooked" on Chinese Palace was Egg Fu Yung. The oyster sauce was usually very good, but it was the egg fu yung patty (actually it was closer to the consistency of scrambled eggs) that was really the attraction. It has usually been cooked very well with a good flavor in itself, apart from the sauce. The new owners of Oriental Cafe on the west side are now serving the Cantonese version of egg fu yung that has both a crispy and soft texture, with much more vibrant flavors. Thus I can no longer recommend the one at Chinese Palace, or even say it is very good, except to say that I liked it for a number of years until I found out how other versions actually tasted.

Egg drop soup
Egg drop soup is one of the restaurant's specialties

I used to order Chop Suey on the lunch plates because it was vegetarian, but I never thought it was very good in terms of flavor. The one here was fresh, but I always thought the vegetables were overcooked, did not have a very good sauce, and needed extra soy sauce for flavor. To me this is not real Chinese food, although I think you could do a lot worse at some other Chinese restaurants.

The Egg Drop Soup was one of my favorites out of the El Paso restaurants that served it. Made with chicken broth and chicken meat, this one had a flavor, color, texture, and smell that for some reason was hard to resist. Chinese Palace changed the noodles that came with it, and this was a big reason I liked the soup so much. I still think the soup is very good, though.

About 2000 Chinese Palace started making some changes, including elimiating the lunch specials. In its place the restaurant started serving a lunch buffet that of course was more expensive than the previous lunch specials, but allowed patrons to eat more food. The buffet is still being served, and is full of fried things, lots of meat with sickening sweet sauces, and of course, lots of MSG. Mercifully the lights are set really low so you don't have to see what you are eating. I'm half joking about the buffet (except for the part about the MSG), but in all seriousness, I recommend ordering from the menu.

Since I was not familiar with authentic Cantonese food until recently, I do not know if Chinese Palace has always had some of the more authentic items or if they were added in 2000 along with the other menu changes. In either case, these are the ones I am exploring at present.

Cantonese style tofu
Cantonese style tofu served on a hot plate with shrimp and chicken

One of the more authentic Cantonese dishes I tried was Tofu on a Hot Plate. This was the traditional Cantonese style of lightly braised tofu with vegetables, shrimp, chicken, and a brown sauce (the meat items can be substituted on request). The hot plate is a traditional Chinese style heated metal plate that not only keeps the food warm, but also causes some additional braising of the meat and tofu on the table. While the sauce was not as good as ones I have found in large city "Chinatown" restaurants, the tofu was cooked as it should be. I have been told that the tofu available in El Paso is not the same as that which is served on the west coast, but I thought the tofu at Chinese Palace was very good. Probably the strongest feature of the dish was the shrimp that was good quality and not overcooked. The chicken was also very good, but the vegetables were nothing that were very exciting.

Hong Kong noodles
Hong Kong noodles at Chinese Palace

Hong Kong Noodles is an item that I am not sure is on the menu, but can be made by request. This is a traditional Cantonese style pan fried noodle dish with oyster sauce and a combination of meat and vegetables. I have had this in several restaurants in El Paso, and so far none has been outstanding. Dynasty Chinese Cuisine in Las Cruces probably serves the best version of it in the region. Chinese Palace, though, probably had the best meat except for the barbecued pork. The shrimp and chicken were good, and the pork was OK (a little tough). I requested bok choy but I don't think it normally comes with the dish. Still, I was impressed that they were able to serve it. The noodles were burned at the ends on purpose, but somehow the middle part, which is supposed to be eaten, seemed a little flavorless compared to others I have tried (there are a number of different types of Chinese noodles, and it is probably a matter of taste). The main problem I had with this dish was not because of any flaw in its preparation, but that it came in a quite substantial portion with more meat than I really thought was necessary. The price of the dish was higher than at the other restaurants in El Paso, and maybe fifty percent higher than I usually pay in Oklahoma. I appreciated the effort the chef made in serving something more authentic, but it was too much food and was difficult to take home once the noodles were made soggy by the gravy (only the outside of the noodles remained crisp).

Szechwan and Hunan dinners are also on the menu, but I have not tried them. I have thought the Cantonese dishes were good enough to make me return, and are the specialty of the chef. I cannot say, though, that the dishes from other regions in China would not be equally good.

At Chinese Palace the best policy is to ask for what you want, even if it is not listed on the menu, and tell them how you want it prepared. I think they will do their best to try to get you what you want.

RESTAURANT DETAILS

RATING: 18

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Tue.
Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Drinks
Buffet: Lunch

Most Recent Visit
Oct. 25, 2007

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Item
Hot Plate Dishes

Special Ratings
Tofu on a Hot Plate:
Hong Kong Noodles:
Egg Fu Yung:
Chop Suey:
Egg Drop Soup:



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