It is very hard for a Chinese restaurant to set itself apart. With so much competition—it seems as though there is at least one in every town—there has to be something unique, a hook that separates it from the pack.
One West Reading restaurant found a way to make its mark on the Berks County food scene by taking Chinese food in a new direction by giving it a vegetarian twist and making it more healthy.
That’s what makes Chen Vegetarian House different from the rest.
In addition to healthful foods, Chen offers a range of healthful drink options including 18 fruit and vegetable juices, five dairy-free smoothie flavors, and four kinds of hot teas.
I was craving something sweet so I went with a papaya smoothie. Papaya has always been one of my favorite fruit flavors, but it’s one that isn’t readily available. The fruit has a light sweetness, a perfect base for a refreshing drink.
Of the 18 juice bar options, more than half start with carrot. The rest are pure fruit, most mixed with ginger to add a little spice to the sweetness. Julie’s juice cocktail was a combination of apple and pineapple with a hint of ginger.
Chen Vegetarian House has some familiar sounding entrees on its menu: General Tso’s chicken, beef teriyaki, and sweet and sour chicken. But as a vegetarian restaurant, all of the “meat” is made from soy and wheat. The shapes and textures are meant to resemble the real thing because sesame chicken sounds a whole lot more appealing than sesame tofu.
My original plan was to try the vegetarian version of General Tso’s, but the description of the mango chicken sounded so good that I changed my plans. And it was the right decision.
The dish included strips of mango, “chicken,” onions and peppers tossed in citrus sauce and served inside a mango shell. The best part of the dish was the fresh mango, which took center stage over the tofu that was there strictly to absorb the sweet sauce and make the dish more filling.
I was actually happy that there was no meat in this dish because chicken would have made it too heavy. It was hard enough to finish the giant plate of food as it was, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste.
Across the table from me, Julie went with the orange flavored beef. The tofu in this case was made to look and feel more like strips of steak and served atop a bed of broccoli. The orange tangerine glaze was thick and stuck to the tofu.
The flavor was spot on, sweet and tangy with just a little spice. The tofu came close to the right consistency, though it was a little chewier, closer to beef jerky than steak. Still, it was a great dish, one that Julie got two meals out of (it was just as good heated up as it was fresh, the mark of good Chinese food).
Not only are Chen’s dishes comparable to its meatier counterparts, but the prices are similar as well. Entrees are all in the $10-12 range. Our two specialty drinks put our final bill right at the $30 mark.
Chen Vegetarian House is truly unique in Berks County, a place that serves one-of-a-kind dishes not found anywhere else around.
And it’s meals like this that make Chen as good as, if not better than, all of the other Chinese restaurants out there.