The first time I reviewed Hong Kong Teahouse and Restaurant was back in the winter of 2003, nearly 20 years ago. The Chinese eatery had just opened in the shadow of the then newly built Gateway mall. Back then, it was pretty risky for businesses to venture that far west of downtown, and the Hong Kong Teahouse owners were pioneers in doing so. During the past two decades they’ve weathered having 200 South torn up in front of their restaurant during construction for TRAX and many other challenges, not the least of which was a pandemic that originated in China and subsequent boycotts of Chinese businesses by conspiracy-minded fools. But somehow the restaurant and teahouse have survived.
The interior doesn’t look much different than it did back in 2003, with heavily lacquered tables and chairs, olive green and vibrant blood orange colored walls, and your typical Asian wall hangings and such. It’s a serene place to dine, especially these days when business is on the slow side. That’s a shame, because the food and service are great and the prices affordable.
A main attraction of Hong Kong Teahouse is their dim sum menu, which is available until 3 p.m. Dim sum plates range from $3.95 to $6.00 and run the gamut from steamed chicken feet and Shanghai dumplings to salt & pepper calamari, pan-fried turnip cakes, steamed beef tripe, eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, and many more. During dinner service some of the dim sum items are available from the appetizer portion of the menu. For example, we shared the Steamed Dim Sum Platter ($10.99) consisting of eight steamed dumplings: shrimp, pork, scallop, and crab – two of each. Amazingly, this platter has only gone up two dollars in price since I ordered it two decades ago; Hong Kong Teahouse has always been an excellent bang for the dining buck.
Other dim sum-style appetizers include steamed buns ($4.99), pan-fried potstickers ($7.50), fried shrimp balls ($6.99), barbecued spareribs ($6.99), and something called Silver Wrapped Chicken ($4.99). Out of curiosity, we ordered the Silver Wrapped Chicken which turned out to be exactly that: boneless dark meat chicken cooked in foil. The chicken was good, but the glaze stuck like Super Glue to the tinfoil making it a nearly impossible challenge to separate and eat with chopsticks.
Although there is a nod or two to Szechuan cooking on the menu – Kung Pao Scallops, spicy Szechuan Tofu and others – the cuisine at Hong Kong Teahouse and Restaurant is primarily Cantonese. Thus, a lot of the dishes are quite subtle, with lightly cooked fresh vegetables and meats often in a sweet sauce. Generally speaking, Cantonese food isn’t spicy. Although there are exceptions such as the delicious Black Pepper Beef with pan-fried noodles ($12.99). Ultra-tender boneless beef strips are cooked in a sauce with an abundance of ground black pepper and served atop vermicelli-style noodles with onions, green peppers, and baby bok choy. A similar dish is available with chicken as the protein.
Portions are large at Hong Kong Teahouse and five of us shared the dishes with the help of a lazy Susan, which many tables are equipped with. Although very fresh tasting, our least favorite dish was probably the Cashew Nut Shrimp ($12.99) which was, well, pretty bland without even a hint of sauce or seasoning. It was a plate of wok-fried shrimp with carrots, celery, zucchini, and lots of cashews, but little flavor. Next time we’ll opt for something like the pan-fried prawns with spiced salt.
There are lots of good things for vegetable lovers on the menu, including dishes such as Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce or garlic ($11.99), braised tofu with tender greens ($9.99), eggplant and tofu hot pot ($11.99), snow pea leaves stir-fried with garlic ($14.99), and many more. We enjoyed sharing perfectly cooked al dente green beans stir-fried with garlic ($12.99). It’s a simple dish where the fresh green beans blessedly aren’t cluttered or hidden in sauce.
There is a large selection of pork and beef dishes including Mongolian beef, a variety of spareribs with different sauces, beef with broccoli, Kung Pao beef, beef with straw mushroom, and more. We shared a messy but delicious dish of Peking Style Spareribs ($13.99) with a tangy and sweet barbecue sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
It’s not exactly an award-winning beverage list, but Hong Kong Teahouse and Restaurant does offer a handful of serviceable wines by the glass or bottle, a couple of beers (Tsing Tao & Sapporo), plum wine, and of course, fresh hot tea priced at only a buck per person. Among the teas available are Jasmin, Wu Long, Po Lei, Sou Mei, Chrysanthemum, Fook Kin, Dragon Well, and others.
The highlight of our dinner was a whole Ocean Perch steamed with ginger and green onion ($23.99). It was perfectly cooked, with the meaty fish flesh nearly falling off the bone and with a vibrant ginger-infused sauce to accompany it. Other tempting seafood items include giant sea clam ($10.99), flounder with roast garlic ($18.99), seafood stir-fried with udon noodles ($12.99), and soft shell crab with ginger and garlic ($20.99).
We didn’t order it this time around, but I urge you to try the Peking Duck ($39.99/whole or $17.99/half) when you visit; it’s an item that you won’t find in most of Utah’s Chinese restaurants. Hong Kong Teahouse and Restaurant may not be the shiniest new kid on the block in downtown SLC, but if you’re in the hunt for really good Cantonese cuisine and friendly, informative service at prices that won’t put you in the poor house, this is the place.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one.” – Ancient Chinese Proverb
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.