7828 Old Seward Hwy.
$10-$22 per plate
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. weekends
Lately I’ve been trying to visit restaurants farther away from Midtown, an area I naturally gravitate toward on short trips from the station. With South Anchorage and Chinese food both on my mind during a recent Wednesday afternoon, I decided to make a stop that fulfilled both needs.
Asia Garden is tucked away on the Old Seward Highway north of its intersection with Dimond Boulevard, on a strip of road adjoining a small neighborhood and set back from the commercial establishments along Dimond proper. The area lends itself to a fairly eclectic selection of restaurants, and Asia Garden is no exception: it’s a low building with a drive-up overhang, marked as much by the vintage DeLorean parked out front (there was a tarp over it during my visit) as the sign near the street.
I arrived at a relatively quiet point in the day, with only a few people seated in a red dining room, heavy on bric-a-brac and Chinese décor; the space is broken up into a series of booths, with the occasional table available for larger groups and an adjacent bar area keeping drinkers separated from diners. I took a look at the lunch menu, an adapted dinner menu spanning a variety of Chinese dishes, and ultimately selected Lunch Special No. 1 ($8.50); the eight specials, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., are evenly split between American and Chinese food and feature a preset menus with sides. I wasn’t busy for long, taking in the ambience for perhaps 10 minutes before food started arriving from the kitchen.
My first course, a bowl of egg drop soup, was just the thing I needed to warm up after stepping in from a cold winter day. It was richer than most examples of the dish I’ve had in town with more egg in the mix, the strength of the flavor underscored by a relatively generous amount of green onion. I wanted to take my time with the soup but I was hungry, and once I started in on it I didn’t stop until the bowl was empty and I was taking a drink to offset its residual saltiness.
The sweet-and-sour pork was much more than what I was expecting, since I’ve usually seen it served as fried and battered hunks of meat coated in a tasteless fire-engine-red glaze. Asia Garden’s version had the color but also some actual flavor, with an aggressive citrusy tang on par with that from a plate of lemon chicken; bits of pineapple mixed in definitely helped, naturally balancing out the lightly breaded pork and making every mouthful surprisingly juicy.
I moved on to the chicken sub gum chow mein, a milder item than the pork but one well worth eating: closer to stir-fry than a traditional meat dish, it featured a medley of vegetables including celery, water chestnuts, carrots and onions alongside small pieces of chicken, all served atop crispy noodles and coated in a thin broth-based glaze. The veggies retained their crispness despite being cooked and dominated the chow mein’s taste, with the chicken, noodles and glaze providing a savory backdrop on my tongue. I found it subtle and not too filling, a useful attribute as I made my way across the plate.
The lunch special’s side dish was a modest quantity of pork fried rice, which I appreciated given how heavy a “simple” lunch can sometimes get once it’s served. It was a heavier example than most, retaining a stronger hit of pork flavor than most and accentuated by small hunks of meat and green onions -- a treat to be enjoyed in small quantities, as opposed to the relatively guilt-free mountains of steamed rice I lean toward when I’m ordering a la carte.
Asia Garden holds up fairly well in a competitive South Anchorage lunch market, coming in at roughly the same prices as the nearby Oriental Express buffet; the quantity isn’t the same, of course, but the quality is a step up and I liked everything I tried. While the conventional menu is a bit more expensive, the lunch specials are similar to the one at Kobe Teppayaki House in Midtown, allowing you to sample the restaurant and decide what you like for the long run. To borrow a quote from my fortune cookie, "Sail into the land of opportunity -- treasures await."
Contact Chris Klint