Christina and Vince Cheng both grew up in restaurant families. They met at a Restaurant Depot and bonded when Vince offered Christina menu advice for her Kent teriyaki and wok restaurant.
Love bloomed and along with it came the idea for their very own restaurant. They opened Cheng’s Asian Restaurant on June 26 in Lakewood in the former home of the Royal Box Chinese Restaurant, which closed in February.
Christina’s restaurant lineage dates back to her grandmother, who opened a teriyaki restaurant in Seattle 25 years ago. Christina and her mother, Chloe Seo, helped run the place. Christina went on to open her teriyaki restaurant.
Vince’s family owned a Chinese restaurant in Texas, but he was a free agent chef cooking in local restaurants when he and Christina met.
Now they work together every day. Christina manages business operations and Vince is the head chef in the kitchen. Their business partners are their family members: Christina’s mother, Vince’s sister, Jennie Cheng, and Jennie’s husband, Savouth Seng.
Regulars to the Royal Box won’t recognize the restaurant after the family’s makeover. They ditched half the seating, allowing for more space between tables in the dining room that now accommodates about 75.
They tore out the tattered floral carpet and old light fixtures and replaced them with laminate flooring and drop lighting festooned with drum shades.
The menu will feel familiar to fans of classic Chinese-American cuisine. The standards are represented, from almond fried chicken to hot-and-sour soup, honey-walnut shrimp and crab wontons.
Look a little deeper into the menu and find a subspecialty the family wants to be known for — Taiwanese cuisine. Vince Cheng’s family is from Taiwan, and several of his favorite dishes are now on the menu, including stir-fried Manilla clams in a black bean sauce with Thai basil, stir-fried yu choy in a garlic-ginger sauce and braised pork served over rice with egg and mustard greens.
“I grew up eating Korean food. My family had never had Taiwanese food, but we love it now. He uses his family’s recipes,” said Christina, who notes that Taiwanese food tastes healthier to her and relies more on vegetables and less on fried meat.
They have plans to import a style of Taiwanese pineapple cake not available here and to add more Taiwanese specialties to the menu.
Here’s a first-bite look at the opening menu. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining style: Table service or take-out. Delivery area in the five miles surrounding restaurant.
Menu: Classic Chinese-American with a sprinkling of other Asian dishes, such as Japanese gyoza ($6.99), Korean spicy pork ribs ($11.99) and Vince’s Taiwanese specialties.
Appetizers: Egg rolls ($3.99), pork wontons ($6.99), spicy dumplings ($6.99), barbecue pork ($7.99) and more. Soups include egg drop, wonton and hot-and-sour ($2.99 to $5.99).
Entrees: Pork dishes include ma po tofu ($10.99), salt-and-pepper ribs ($11.99), sweet-and-sour ribs ($11.99). Seafood dishes include broccoli shrimp ($13.99), happy family ($15.99), sweet-and-sour shrimp ($13.99), kung pao shrimp ($13.99) and more.
Beef dishes include black pepper beef ($11.99), sesame beef ($11.99), Mongolian beef ($11.99), garlic beef ($11.99). Chicken dishes include orange chicken ($10.99), almond fried chicken ($10.99), cashew nut chicken ($10.99), General Tso’s chicken ($10.99), sweet-and-sour chicken ($10.99), Szechuan chicken ($10.99) and more.
Entrees served with rice.
Vegetarians: Garlic sauce eggplant ($9.99), vegetable tofu ($10.99), vegetable delight ($10.99) and more.
Fried rice/chow mein: 10 versions of fried rice, from vegetable ($8.99) to Singapore-style ($13.99). Chow mein includes eight styles ($8.99 to $13.99).
Lunch special: 15 entree choices with appetizer, soup and rice for $8.99.
On a first visit: Don’t miss the green beans with tofu and garlic sauce, a tasty tangle of quickly fried green beans with a sticky, savory sauce and substantial swaths of fried tofu ($10.99). The classic almond fried chicken was just as it should be with a crunchy coating, light-and-airy texture, a ladle of brown gravy and sprinkle of almonds ($10.99).
Black pepper beef was equal parts tender beef and still-crunchy bell peppers, onions and carrots in a pepper-heavy sauce ($11.99). Salt-and-pepper ribs carried a crunchy batter, and the pork pulled easily from the bone ($11.99). All came with steamed white rice.
Cheng’s Asian Restaurant
Where: 11101 Pacific Hwy SW, Lakewood
Info: 253-433-7135, facebook.com/chengsasian
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday