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My second stop for Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week was the very popular Five Star! Located in a quiet area of Hargett Street, Five Star does Americanized Chinese food in a frou-frou setting. We’re talking about a dim, sorta sexy space with some nice ambiance. And I’ll be honest with you, I was always pretty tough on Five Star and its food. I loved the concept and had seen it done in San Francisco but even if the food was going to be Asian-fusion or Asian-inspired, I still wanted it to be tasty. And the several times I ate at Five Star, it had fallen short. But a couple of weeks back I had stopped in to meet a friend and grab a beer. And the apps I had were decent. So I figured it was time for a re-visit and full meal, here’s how it all went down!
For Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week, Five Star had a decent $20 deal but in all honesty, their prices are usually pretty reasonable to begin with. From the outside, Five Star has a totally inconspicuous front face with only a dark, heavy wood door disclosing what may lie ahead. Inside Five Star you’ll come up immediately on the hostess stand. A good-looking bar right in front, dining room to the left and larger dining room set back to the right.. There’s also an upstairs lounge area where they sometimes have a DJ and dance music but we’re here to eat tonight! We’re seated right up front which is fine since the place is busy…
The waitperson looks a bit familiar and I will say that I have usually had very professional service at Five Star during my infrequent visits. We put our orders in for the entire meal including dessert. I’ve got some Asian pork tostadas, honey walnut shrimp and warm chocolate cake is on the menu for tonight! Looking around the dining room, I can say that Five Star brings in a traditional ITB crowd. Very Raleigh, very Southern and a bit buttoned down. Which is why the Americanized Chinese cuisine works so well here, think along the lines of PF Changs. But hey, I’m open to another go-around.
Our apps show up and my tostadas look pretty impressive! 3″ square chips loaded up with five-spiced pork along with some colorful slaw, nice. It’s a tasty handful but also a little tough to eat. The tender pork on top of a crunchy chip is delicious but of course, breaks up. Can’t go with the chopsticks here, things are going to be messy! Overall a very nice start to our meal. My friend’s heatseeker shrimp is a generous portion of nicely fried seafood, slivers of scallions and carrots along with some black sesame atop. Very nice looking appetizer.
And finally my entree of honey-walnut chicken shows up. It’s a smaller portion of shrimp with candied nuts on some steamed broccoli, basic Chinese-American fare. But well-done with tender shrimp in that sweet, luscious sauce with some crisp from the veggies. Paired with a nice bowl of steamed rice, I’m thinking “nicely done” again so we’re on a roll! While I love my traditional Chinese food, I’m good with Chinese-American or Chinese frou-frou as long as it’s good. We’re pretty stuffed right now but on to the third course. My chocolate cake dessert is fine, nothing too special but a good finish for the meal.
And all I can say is that I’m glad I made it back to Five Star for a do-over. I can be really hard when it comes to my Asian eats given I grew up on Chinese food and lived in San Francisco. My brother-in-law even owned an upscale sorta fancy Chinese-American restaurant decades ago so I’m familiar with the concept. In the end, there’s a wide spectrum of Chinese food that I’ll eat but I have high expectations for it all. It’s got to be prepared well with good flavor, technique and reasonable prices. And I think Five Star has shifted gears and raised up their Chinese-American fare to the pretty tasty and good range for me, surprise! That really makes me happy because I’ve always liked the space but now they have decent food to match. But yeah, I’ll have to come back and try out the rest of their broad menu because I need to make sure they have upped their game. So cheers Five Star! You’re up to four stars in my opinion and I’m hoping for more and better on my next visit.
511 W Hargett Street
Raleigh, NC 27603