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Red or Green?

Cooked to Order

Have it your way at Silver City's Chinese Palace

Peggy Platonos Of the three Chinese restaurants currently open in Silver City, the Chinese Palace is the only one where all the food is cooked to order. This means that not only does every dish arrive at the table freshly cooked and steaming, but also that you can tailor any dish to suit your taste.

chinese palace
Born and raised in China, Chinese Palace owner Ping Lee does all the cooking at the restaurant. (Photo by Peggy Platonos)

Don't like mushrooms? You can ask to have them left out. Love bean sprouts? You can ask to have more added. Like your food extra spicy? Ask and spiciness shall be given. Sometimes there is a charge for extra ingredients, sometimes there isn't – it depends on the ingredients.

All the cooking is done in huge gas-fired woks by owner Ping Lee, who was born and raised in China, in a medium-sized town just outside the city of Canton. She came to the United States more than 20 years ago at the age of 23, after marrying Shun Lee, who was living in San Francisco at the time but visited his mother in China every year. The two met on one of his visits, and have been together ever since. They have three children – two grown and living elsewhere, one still at home. All three children speak the Chinese language as well as English, and all three have helped out in the restaurant.

Ping's full name is Guiping (pronounced GWEH-ping) and, since women do not take their husband's surname in China and surnames come before given names in China, she would be known there as Liang Guiping.

"Because I live in America, I took my husband's name, Lee, and everybody calls me Ping because it is easier to say," she explains.

The food she serves is not what you would find in China, either. "This is American-Chinese style," she says. "The big difference is that the Chinese eat everything, all parts. So chicken is served with skin and bones, fish with heads, skin, everything."

On Ping's menu, only spareribs are served with bones, the chicken is skinless as well as boneless, and the only seafood is shrimp, with the shrimp cooked and served headless and peeled.

In China, traditionally, there was little or no cheese included in the cuisine. "Now, with McDonald's, cheese is everywhere in China," she says.

But, in this respect, Ping's menu is more traditional – the only cheese on the menu (with the exception of a Grilled Cheese Sandwich as an American food option) is in the filling of the Crab Rangoon appetizers she has recently added. She offers eight of the delightfully crisp, tasty treats served with Ping's special homemade sweet and sour sauce for just $4.99.

This same sweet and sour sauce is also served with several other appetizers, including the crispy Fried Shrimp – five of them – that are a real deal at $4.

The portions at the Chinese Palace are extremely generous, and the prices are quite reasonable, with most dinners running from $6.49 to $8. A few of the shrimp dishes are slightly more expensive than that, but the most expensive item on the dinner menu is $9.95 – spicy Straw Mushrooms with Shrimp & Broccoli.

Lunch options (available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) are lower in price, with portions somewhat smaller in size. These are mostly combination plates that range in price from $4.50 to $6.25. (Again the higher price is a shrimp dish, in this case Sweet & Sour Shrimp with Egg Roll.)

A personal note: the subgum style of chow mein Ping serves is a bit more expensive than the regular chow mein, but, in my opinion, it's worth that little extra cost. It has a greater variety of vegetables and toasted sliced almonds on top. Be advised that the crispy noodles are served under the chow mein, instead of on top, as you might expect. The buried noodles add a bit of crunchy surprise when you take a bite.

For those who are accustomed to eating Chinese food in America, some of Ping's other dishes will surprise you, too. Her Chow Fun rice noodles, for instance, are not the little white vermicelli-like strands that we've encountered elsewhere. Ping uses wide noodles that she says are "the real Chinese-style rice noodles." And the noodles she uses for lo mein dishes are a little narrower than we've encountered elsewhere. But she points out that "China is so big, there are many different regions, and each one has its own style of food."

The Cantonese cuisine she grew up with is not very spicy, she says. "But I have spicy food, too. And anything I cook, I'll cook spicy hot if people ask."

Most of the years she has spent in America have been spent in New Mexico – three years in Las Cruces, then four years in Deming, helping her husband in restaurants he established in each of those places and learning the restaurant business. The last 14 years have been spent in Silver City, running the Chinese Palace with her husband's help.

"From China, I never ate hot chiles before. But actually, sometimes the hot chiles make a good flavor for the food," she says. And she has actually added a chile-enhanced dish to her menu recently – Green Chili Egg Rolls at $1.35 each.

"I love it here," she says. "I love the US and I feel so good in Silver City. I feel people here care about you. People are more friendly. I feel more safe here. I love the weather. I love the freedom. I have my husband, my children, the restaurant. I just love my life here. I love what I do. It's important that you love your work, very important. And I love my work. I enjoy everything – cooking, talking to the customers, everything."

The Chinese Palace is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. It's closed Saturdays and Sundays. Orders can be called in at (575) 538-9300.

Send Mimbres freelance writer Peggy Platonos tips for
restaurant reviews at platonos@gilanet.com or call (575) 536-2997.


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