Discreet Diner: Pei Wei Restaurant

Posted: March 23, 2008

Even during a torrential rain on a recent Saturday, the line at Cherry Hill's new Asian diner, Pei Wei, snaked nearly out the door. Diners are clearly excited about Arizona's P.F. Chang's fast-food spin-off, which opened in midwinter on the Route 70 side of the former Garden State Park complex.

Despite the line, the restaurant is fast and convenient - almost to a fault. Don't dream of lingering on a busy day. Servers politely do their best to move you along to claim the table for the next group in line.

Pei Wei (pronounced pay way) offers a disciplined menu of seven rice bowls and 10 signature dishes, which you can vary with chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables and tofu. A little Pei Wei man on the menu indicates spicy. There also are four appetizers and three salads to choose from, and the single dessert is a (delicious) home-baked chocolate chip cookie ($1).

Diners order at the counter and await delivery underneath a red-and-black number on their table as cooks stir-fry to order in woks - sometimes with dramatic flames.

This system should make for utmost efficiency, and for the most part, it works. The food was hot, well-presented, and tastier than in many suburban Chinese restaurants I've visited. But Pei Wei still has a few glitches to work out.

Dishes come out when they're ready, so parties often have to eat in shifts. Twice we were offered food that we didn't order. I received brown instead of the white rice I ordered. These are small mistakes, but enough to frustrate some diners.

The stumbles didn't detract from the quality of the food, however. Crab wontons ($3.95 for four; $6.95 for eight) crunched perfectly and then burst with crab cream cheese, subdued nicely by a sweet duck sauce.

Sweet-and-sour shrimp ($9) and pork ($7.95) had a tangy sauce over gently sauteed onion, green and red pepper, and pineapple. No mushy, overcooked vegetables here. Honey seared chicken ($9) was equally sweet and beautifully presented with diced red pepper and scallion greens on the restaurant's black melamine plate.

Pei Wei Spicy didn't disappoint; indeed, it offered gratifying sizzle. My dining partner ordered it with beef ($8.25). The snap peas, carrots and scallions were crisp and colorful.

Our favorite dish - one so big we boxed up half to take home - was pad thai with chicken ($6.95), a fresh mixture of rice noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, lime, cilantro, crushed peanuts, tofu, and Thai sweet-and-sour sauce.

With its bright red floor, wood-beam ceiling, and black-and-tan seating, Pei Wei brings a touch of class to quick Chinese.

Discreet Diner: Pei Wei

2050 Route 70 West, Towne Place at Garden State Park, Cherry Hill.


Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Parking lot: Yes.

Children's menu: Yes.

Cocktails: No.

Handicapped access: Yes.

On the Web: www.peiwei.com.

The Discreet Diner is a member of the Inquirer staff and welcomes your comments at discreetdiner@phillynews.com.

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