With the craze for pork belly, it is refreshing to dine in the pork-free zone of China Beach Kosher Chinese Restaurant, where large portions are reasonably priced and cooked to order. You can watch chef Long Phung at work in the open kitchen, stirring sizzling woks with long spatulas in each hand.
Protein choices include chicken, beef and tofu in stir-fries, noodle dishes, coconut curries and fried rice. There are also several vegetarian dishes such as mu shu wraps and broccoli or eggplant in garlic sauce.
The chef left Vietnam as a child with his family on a boat to the Philippines. Soon after arriving, the family traveled on to Israel where they learned Hebrew and became citizens. Long Phung grew up in the Chinese restaurants his family ran in Tel Aviv, and served in the Israeli Army. He and his Vietnamese-Israeli wife emigrated to Miami 14 years ago, and he worked in various Chinese restaurants. When his neighbor Simon Benhaim opened China Beach, he came on board as chef.
Start with fried guacamole or pastrami egg rolls, steamed chicken dumplings or chicken wraps in iceberg lettuce. Ma po tofu brings steamed cubes of bean curd in spicy bean paste sauce with snow peas, bell peppers and water chestnuts. Ma po means “crater faced old lady,” referring to the pock-marked originator of the Sichuan dish, who sold it from a street cart a century ago.
Kung pao chicken, stir-fried with peanuts, chiles and vegetables, is named for a Sichuan governor known as kung pao, or “palace guardian.” General Tso’s chicken, battered and fried breast nuggets in spicy sweet and sour sauce, honors a famous military commander. Variations here include honey garlic, lemon, orange and sesame.
There’s also grilled spare ribs with sweet barbecue sauce, chicken lo mein and wide chow fun rice noodles with beef.
The sole dessert is vanilla ice cream, as straightforward as the place.
Miami food writer and personal chef Linda Bladholm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.