4, 5, 6, 7, S at Grand Central-42nd St.
30th St. to 50th St., First Ave. to Park Ave.
A few steps below street level on a nowhere block near the Queens Midtown tunnel, Phoenix Garden is not a place anyone is likely to stumble on by accident. The very plain interior is embellished with little more than track lighting, exposed bricks, and a few Chinese wall decorations. If there's such a thing as anti-ambience, then this Cantonese restaurant has it. All the same, the place is packed nightly, because much of the food is superb. Look around and you'll see at least one party with the immensely popular pepper and salty shrimp. Fried with their shells still on and covered with a thin batter that's laced with flakes of pepper and salt, the shrimp are addictively crisp, with only a trace of oiliness. Also well worth ordering is the crunchy jellyfish appetizer, served cold. More chewy than crunchy, the noodle-like, flavorless strips are counterbalanced with scallions, tangy pickled vegetables, and nutty-tasting sesame oil. Skip the overly familiar dishes, such as diced chicken with cashew nuts—some tend to be bland—and seek out the unusual. In keeping with Phoenix Garden's stripped down service, be sure to order rice separately if you want it, and don't expect a fortune cookie or cut-up orange when you're through.Extra
Phoenix Garden is so popular with Japanese guests that it has a separate Japanese menu for them.Recommended Dishes
Crunchy jellyfish, $9.95; pepper & salty shrimp, $14.95; special sauteed minced fillet of squab with lettuce wrapper, $20.95; beef chow fun (dry style), $12.95