J.K. Grence: Pei Wei Makes the Best Beef and Broccoli in Phoenix

Pei Wei Beef Broccoli.JPG
JK Grence

The Guilty Pleasure: Ginger Broccoli Steak
Where to Get It: Pei Wei Asian Diner, locations Valleywide
Price: $8.75
What It Really Costs: Admitting you ate at a national chain and liked it. Oh yeah, that plate you polished off? It's supposed to serve two.

I love lots of authentic Chinese joints around town. But, every now and again I crave one of the quintessential Americanized Chinese dishes, beef and broccoli. As far as guilty pleasures go, it's downright virtuous. I mean, c'mon, there's broccoli involved, and it's not even deep-fried.

See Also:
Pei Wei's new Asian Market Location

There's one problem with my enjoyment of beef and broccoli. I've tried it at dozens of Chinese restaurants in metro Phoenix. A good number of them have been repeatedly hailed as some of the best in town. But it's always the same damn thing. The beef is gray and lifeless, and the sauce doesn't taste like anything.

I found my beef and broccoli salvation at a place that nobody recommended to me. Why did nobody think to mention them? It's because they have almost 20 locations in Arizona, and scores more locations from coast to coast. That place is Pei Wei.

Pei Wei's beef and broccoli (they like to be a little fancy and call it Ginger Broccoli Steak) is living proof that universal chain disdain is one of the worst things to come out of the foodie movement. The reason Pei Wei nails their beef and broccoli is simple: Wok hei. I can hear you now, what the hey is wok hei? The basic translation of wok hei is "the breath of a wok."

Pei Wei Beef Broccoli Narrow.JPG
JK Grence
Wok hei is the result of cooking in a wok over very high temperatures. The Maillard reaction happens, resulting in deep caramelization. The oil in the wok sometimes flares up, threatening the cook's eyebrows. The end result has an aroma and taste leagues beyond the typical lifeless strips of beef that dominate Chinese restaurants across the land. The only place I've found in the Valley that gets wok hei on a consistent basis is Pei Wei.

The sauce is a little saltier than I'd like it to be, but I'll deal with that over the otherwise dreary versions at every other Chinese joint in town. Is there some mom-and-pop place that I'm missing that hits wok hei? I'd like to think so. Let me know.

Then there's Pei Wei's Coke Freestyle machines, with amazing raspberry Coca-Cola. That's just a bonus... and a column for another day.

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Location Info

Venue

Map

Pei Wei Asian Diner

701 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

Pei Wei Asian Diner

1825 W. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert, AZ

Category: Restaurant

Pei Wei Asian Diner

8787 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ

Category: Restaurant

Pei Wei Asian Diner

20022 N. 67th Ave., Glendale, AZ

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
propper_family
propper_family

since when is beef and broccoli chinese food?   that's like calling spag & meat sauce Italian.

JKGrence
JKGrence

 @propper_family Like I said, Americanized Chinese, much like how spaghetti and meatballs is Americanized red-sauce Italian.

opinionator
opinionator like.author.displayName 1 Like

This reflects either a lack of imagination or effort on the part of the writer or a terrible and inexcusable crisis in Chinese-American food in the Valley. I hope Obama and Romney bring this up in the debates. I moved here 5 years ago and was amazed to see PF Chang's win "Best Chinese Food" over and over again. wtf? Very sad.

JKGrence
JKGrence

 @opinionator So, have you *had* Pei Wei's beef and broccoli?

 

I could cross this Valley using mom-n-pop Chinese and Cheapinese (you know, entree, fried rice, won ton, and egg roll, all for $7) places just like how navigators of old used the stars. Whatever place I'm missing on my map that does beef and broccoli better than Pei Wei, PLEASE let me know. I'd love to eat crow on this article.

 

It's mild solace for me that I've brought up the topic of Pei Wei's beef and broccoli when chatting with some well-respected chefs around town. All too often they agree, using hushed tones usually reserved for a confessional booth.

blair5
blair5 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Lots of people like lots of things because they don't get around much. Some people like bad things because they don't like good things. Opinions are like assholes, except that some people have lots of them and consider them their best feature.

JKGrence
JKGrence

 @blair5 And some people have bleached their opinions, too. Your point?

blair5
blair5

 @JKGrence are you going to review Sports Authority's nylon shoelaces next?

Ando_Muneno
Ando_Muneno moderator writer

 @opinionator 

 

While I cannot comment on the opinion expressed by Mr. Grence I will point out that "Best Chinese" this year went to a fantastic local spot called Chou's Kitchen. http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bestof/2012/award/best-chinese-restaurant-3168465/

 

Now, PF Chang's does keep winning the Readers' Choice and that... that I can't explain.

JKGrence
JKGrence

 @Ando_Muneno  @opinionator I've been to Chou's, I love it, it's well deserving of Best in Phoenix this year.

 

Oh, for the halcyon days of PF Chang's, back when Paul Fleming owned the sole location at Scottsdale Fashion Square, and three-hour waits on a weekend night were the norm...

 

I'm dating myself here, aren't I?

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