When it comes to Chinese food, I’m just a little picky. Coming from a Chinese family and with a mom who was a fantastic cook means the bar is set pretty high for my Asian and Chinese eats. But I can appreciate everything from ethnic Chinese to Chinese-American and more. But there IS a line on the low end still. I had hit up Jade Garden when I first moved to Raleigh in 2008 in hopes of finding an inexpensive, fast Chinese-American take-out joint in the hood. Located on Hillsborough Street at the first circle, Jade Garden sits in an older set of store-fronts on the east side of Hillsborough. Online reviews say the place has been refreshed so it’s time for a re-visit after 6+ years!
Due to its tight and busy location, Jade Garden has a small lot on the side for patrons, maybe 9 or so spots. I park there and hoof it around the corner and up front there’s a sign proclaiming “Under new management.” So at least the online reviews got that part right. Same beaten up signage up front in yellow and green, it feels like an 80’s throw-back. Inside Jade Garden, the place has been refreshed. New carpet (I think), redone booths and some bright Chinese decor around the space. It’s a small dining room, maybe holding 20 people or so.
I get seated at a booth and look at the lunch menu. $7 for a entree (10 or so choices) along with soup and eggroll. I go with the egg-drop soup and garlic chicken for lunch. Immediately a plate of fried won-ton noodles get brought over with sweet-sour sauce, old-school baby! But who can resist these crunchy, greasy noodle chips? The egg-drop soup is fine, a warm serving of broth with swirls of egg and not too much salt. Next the lunch entree comes up and it’s a decent portion of tender white meat chicken mixed with broccoli, zucchini, peppers, bamboo shoots and more. A small pile of brown fried rice and a commercial (probably frozen) egg roll. It’s your typical Americanized Chinese meal and the common theme I see in this style of food is a syrupy sauce, most likely requiring fructose, that seems to be a common denominator in this category of Chinese eats. It’s not awful but certainly not what any home-cook would normally use.
I finish my meal (most of it, sans egg roll) and pay up. Service at Jade Garden was sweet and attentive so thank you there! But the reality is that while Jade Garden has refreshed its interior, the food hasn’t changed much from what I remember. It’s still super Americanized, typical American-Chinese food. I would still prefer to hit up Peace China over at Seaboard in lieu of dining here and dealing with the parking situation. In the end, like many restaurants on Hillsborough Street, it’s designed to please college students and their basic dining needs. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just understand what you’re getting before you make an effort to get over here.