Chinese cuisine and music bring Far East dining to a new level
By Lynette Carrington
There’s nothing better than finding a restaurant that truly has authentic recipes reflecting a geographic region from faraway lands.
Shaanxi Garden immerses its guests in the recipes, flavors, art, furniture and culture of the Shaanxi region of China. The restaurant is a collaborative effort between owners, Noel Cheng and Changhai Huang, along with Huang’s girlfriend Pingping Xiao and the restaurant’s chef, Jiang Niu.
Huang, Xiao and Cheng were international students at ASU and settled in the Valley after graduation. They opened a smaller Chinese restaurant in Chandler, but perfected their concept, dreamed bigger and opened Shaanxi Garden, now their sole restaurant, in November 2017.
Cheng, Huang and Niu all hail from Shaanxi, China, making it a proud endeavor in bringing this regional cuisine to the Valley.
“We are one of the most unique restaurants serving this kind of food because we haven’t changed any of the recipes,” Cheng explains.
“It’s very authentic food and not Americanized. These noodles and these dishes are what we grew up eating.”
The details are striking at Shaanxi Garden. The gorgeous floor tiles depict the stories of the celebrated terracotta warriors. The chairs and tables feature ornate Chinese designs and border accents. The restaurant’s interior sign replicates shops in Shaanxi, China.
The eight Chinese wall paintings describe the “odd customs,” as they are called by those in Shaanxi, that are educational and downright intriguing.
The co-owners shipped from China every bowl, every dish and the life-size terracotta warriors at the front entrance. In fact, guests may like they were transported to China for their meal.
Take the noodles, for example.
“The noodles need to be wide as a belt,” Cheng says. “Those noodles are handmade here in the restaurant every day from different types of flour. When the noodle is being made, it is formed and slapped on the counter. The sound it makes is ‘biang,’ which is how the biang biang noodle gets its name.”
Various noodle dishes are Shaanxi pan-fried, house biang biang and Shaanxi-style handmade noodles. There are several spicy dishes and vegetarian options.
“It’s a brave thing to try authentic food,” Cheng says. “I tell people, ‘Don’t use old concepts to judge food that is new to you.’ Once people try our noodles they love them.”
Shaanxi Garden does feature other dishes. Honey spare ribs and a combination dish—the four bowls of happiness—are popular. The entrée has four different foods, including stir fry beef with Sichuan peppers, tender pork meatballs in broth, tender pork belly with fermented black beans and sweet soy sauce and slices of marinated tofu.
The differences extend beyond the food. Musicians will play a traditional Chinese instrument called a guzheng—a descendent of an ancient zither-like instrument believed to have been invented during the Qin Dynasty in 897-221 BC.
“In the first century AD, the guzheng is described as a plucked half-tube wood zither with movable bridges, over which a number of strings are stretched, and in the second century BC, the guzheng was described as having 12 silken strings and high narrow jade bridges,” Cheng says.
“The guzheng has played an important role in Chinese history and folk music. It is also the parent instrument of the Asian long zither family.”
The modern-day guzhengs, including the Japanese koto, Korean gayageum and Mongolian yatga, are developed from the traditional Chinese guzheng. This makes the instrument an extremely important piece of Asian musical culture. The guzheng artist at Shaanxi Garden performs 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays and the performer will dress in Qin, Song or Han Dynasty clothing. Besides the Chinese instrument performances, Shaanxi Garden also has events like Chinese calligraphy writing during Chinese New Year.
“I enjoy seeing our customers, and their positive reviews make my day,” Cheng says. “It’s a tough business, but no matter how hard the day is, I can eat anything on the menu. It’s my hometown food and exactly what my grandma cooked for me.”
Shaanxi Garden, 67 N. Dobson Road, Mesa. 480.733.8888, shaanxibiangbiang.com.
For more restaurants around town, visit our attractions page.