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Lexington Ky Restaurants


Your Guide To Fine Dining

P. F . Chang's


Dragon Garden
China Buffet
Happy Dragon
Golden Wok
Panda Garden
Lexington has a proud history of fine Chinese restaurants but in the 21st Century the field has devolved in odd ways. The first Chinese establishment was Wing's Tea House, which opened in 1958 on New Circle Road serving Cantonese cuisine. It was the first nationality restaurant in town to serve anything besides Italian, and was a huge success. It prospered for 35 years until the owners retired. The second Chinese restaurant in town was the tiny Jade Garden, opened in 1974 in Chevy Chase by a family of three sisters and two brothers who came over to attend college at UK. They paid their way through for six years with a Shanghai menu, living above the restaurant while earning B.A.s and then MBAs. The Jade Garden had a galley kitchen out back and just 12 tables, but older Lexingtonians still remember its Hot and Sour Soup, Egg Rolls and Moo Goo Gai Pan.. The week the five siblings received their MBAs they closed the restaurant, sold the property, packed their belongings and flew back to China. Then the idea formed that a traditional restaurant with a menu focusing on one region of China was not the best strategy. Instead, the All-China Buffet became popular. Next Carry Out became the fad. Today, half the Chinese eateries in town are carry out with no sit down service, or carry out and buffet only. Another strange development has been the standardized menu. Ten of Lexington's Chinese restaurants have exactly the same menu with only the colors changed, even though they are owned by different people and not part of a chain. Luckily the remaining restaurants give us a good choice of traditional sit down style with excellent quality.
Hunan's is a small family restaurant which opened in 1984 at Southland Drive and Nicholasville Road and is still there. The building is a modest red frame, but offers authentic Chinese at its classical best. The hot and sour soup is milder than most but extremely rich and mellow, considered by most Chinese enthusiasts the current best in town. The mustard here is powerful and should be sampled with care, but the sweet sauce is Apricot based and wonderful. Hunan's Shanghai Scallops in Mandarin Sauce is the best Chinese seafood entree in town. Hunan's is Elegant. It has class, dignity and subtlety. The name implies Hunan cuisine, which is extremely hot. But that's misleading. They're just using the name. In fact, they offer items from all Chinese regions.115 Southland Drive. 278-3811.
P. F. Chang's has become the face of Chinese food in Lexington due to its location at the entrance to Fayette Mall. It is by far the largest Oriental restaurant in town. Ironically, its menu is not as large as some of its rivals, who almost bury diners in excess with over 100 items. But Chang's has everything you could possibly want and the quality is outstanding. The Hot and Sour Soup will wake up your taste buds. Of their sides, we're particularly fond of the Shanghai Cucumbers. We think their Lemon Scallops or Oolong Sea Bass (the fish is steeped in Oolong tea, broiled and served with ginger, soy and spinach) are the equal of any entrees offered by the best Lexington seafood restaurants. There are 14 chicken dishes which can hard to select from, but we recommend the Eggplant Chicken (stir fried with scallions in chili pepper sauce), or the old standard Moo Goo Gai Pan (chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and vegetables). People do not generally go to a Chinese restaurant for steak, but Chang's does a great job with their Asian Marinated 12 oz. New York Strip. They offer chicken or beef which gives the meat a delicate citrusy taste. For dessert they bring you an array from which to choose. For couples, there's an interesting menu of $40 all inclusive dinners for two. The menu contains one whole page of gluten free appetizers, soups, entrees, sides and desserts.
The Happy Dragon offers the same menu as the Dragon Garden and several others. The 10 soups and 13 appetizers are all good but the house specialty is Crab Rangoon. There are six Chop Sueys, seven Chow Meins, and 120 items in all. The Chef's Specialties are a fireworks display of Oriental treats, but we particularly like the Seafood Delight (shrimp, scallops, lobster, crab and vegetables in white sauce), Beef-Scallops in vegetables served on a sizzling hot plate, and the Emperor's Three Treasures (chicken, shrimp, scallops, snow peas, broccoli, mushrooms, and water chestnuts in white sauce). From downtown, use West Main, turn right on Newtown Pike, follow it past LexMark over New Circle Road, drop down and climb the opposite hill, and The Happy Dragon is on the right. Turn in at the Griffin Gate entrance.
The Golden Wok is a deceptive place. It's in the far corner of a strip mall off Richmond Road. From the car it looks like a modest carry out operation. But inside, it opens to a full scale restaurant; that mall building is deeper than you think. They have 111 items on the menu. In their menu selections and in the seasoning and preparation, The Golden Wok leans heavily toward Hunan cuisine, meaning hot and spicy. However, some menu items are mild, and by request any item can be prepared without the heat. There are also many vegetarian entrees. They have eight soups, third largest list in town. Their 14 appetizers are the most in Lexington,and include a Pupu Platter (spare ribs, chicken wings, shrimp, beef teriyaki), and Crab Rangoon. Golden Wok offers the sweet and sour dinners many local rivals omit, and they do them very well. Among the Chef's Specialties, we think they do their best job with the Seafood Delight (shrimp, scallops, crab meet and vegetables sauteed in white sauce), Happy Family (scallops, beef, chicken, roast pork, shrimp and vegetables) and General Tso's Chicken. This last dish is an icon of Hunanese cuisine. General Tso (or Zuo) brought back Broccoli from his campaign in Outer Mongolia. A Mongolian had told him Broccoli was the secret to the long lives Mongolians enjoyed, so Tso instructed his wife and chef to devise a dish using it. The result is sweet and spicy deep fried dark meat slices of chicken and broccoli. seasoned with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wine, and scallions. It was the favorite dish of Chiang Kai Shek.
If you want a buffet, this is the place to come. The China Buffet has been the best in town for several years. They have a Mongolian grill with numerous meats and sauces, included in the basic buffet price. The Coconut Shrimp and Garlic Roasted Pork are outstanding and the General Tso Chicken is very good. Appetizers include egg rolls, ribs, dumplings. wings and noodles. There are sweet and sour dishes, shrimp and scallop items, and lots of vegetables : snow peas, broccoli, cashew nuts, mushrooms and several kinds of rice. Chicken, pork and beef items are always offered. Weeknight dinners are $10 and weekend dinners $11. On Friday and Saturday nights the buffet is heavily loaded with seafood. Cross-roads Plaza, Nicholasville Road. From downtown, take Nicholasville Road past New Circle Road. Take the first left turn (not the one going down to New Circle Road !!), then right into the plaza, then left to China Buffet.
The Panda Garden is way out on New Circle Road, the menu is photocopied, and the decor is amateurish. But go anyway. Many well travelled Lexingtonians claim this food is not only the best in town, but competitive with New York City, Boston and San Francisco. The cuisine here is primarily Sichuan. Do not go for lunch. Their strength is the dinner menu. Items here ranked best in town are Yu Shiang (spicy chicken), Panda's Spicy Beef, and Pork Bamboo Shoots. Appetizers worth ordering are Garlic Pork, Jellyfish, Ginger Green Beans, and Spicy Beef Tendon. It's worth a visit to sample their 10 soups, especially Chicken Corn, San Sien, Mandarin Seafood, Scallop Chowder, and Fu Rong Squid. 531 West New Circle Road. From downtown, head North on Broadway (which runs alongside the Hyatt and Triangle Park), turn left onto New Circle Road, and look for Panda Garden on the right.  
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