Chinese food is notorious for “mystery non-vegan ingredients.” It’s never fun when you order stir-fried vegetables and are surprised to find egg or pork in the dish. The worst thing is trying to figure out if the “vegetarian” or “vegetable” items contain beef or chicken broth. Luckily, one place in Phoenix gets it right – Desert Jade on Indian School and 32nd St. It’s my favorite vegan-friendly Asian lunch haunt in the Biltmore area. Desert Jade is also a great spot for big office lunches and family dinners if you’re looking to make everyone happy.
Desert Jade is a typical old-school family-style American-Chinese restaurant. It’s been around forever (in Phoenix terms). However, Desert Jade features a few stand-out meat and vegan-friendly dishes that differentiate it from the rest. For instance, my co-worker swears their sesame chicken is the best in the world and totally unique.
As you can tell by now, I tend to find an item I like on a menu and always order it. At Desert Jade, that item is the spicy bean curd with vegetables. I order it “made with water, not broth” plus extra spicy (and no mushrooms, because I hate them).
If one of my usual waiters is looking after me, I don’t have to explain the water vs. broth request (or actually even order – yes, I go there that frequently). If it’s someone that looks new or uncertain, I just make sure they write it on the order ticket correctly. The brown sauce they create is tangy, somewhat thick and not too sweet. It’s loaded with garlic and if you have them add extra spice, it can really get the sinuses going. Their tofu is fresh (no freezer burn), prepared properly (browned well and saturated in sauce) and complemented with typical American-Chinese veggies (carrots, baby corn, cabbage, snow peas).
Other vegan-friendly items (when you ask for them to be made with water instead of broth) are the vegetable bean cake soup, hot & sour soup, moo shu vegetables (ask for no egg) and assorted Chinese vegetables. I’ve also had them make the Singapore rice noodles vegan (substitute tofu for the meats). It’s great, but a little greasy. As an added bonus, the fortune cookies are vegan (but always check the wrapper in case they change vendors)!
My guess is they would be happy to make most items vegan as long as you are clear about what’s required, so experiment and let me know what you find! I haven’t tried the vegetable chop suey or chow mein yet because I love the spicy bean curd too much. Items that are sadly off-limits to vegans include the egg rolls and the fried rice.
Desert Jade is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays. I couldn’t find an menu online, but it’s Chinese food. You know the drill.