When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Lucky Star Asian Dining
Location: 1743 East Broadway Road, #1, Tempe
Open: About five months, since late March
Eats: Cantonese and Szechuan food, plus drinks and snacks for karaoke
Price: Under $15 per person for food, $40–90 per hour for karaoke
Tempe’s newest (and perhaps only) Chinese restaurant and karaoke lounge is flanked by a loan agency and a hair salon. But don’t let the location or humble exterior of Lucky Star Asian Dining fool you: This is the spot for serious Eastern-style parties.
The main dining room sports festive red and orange walls adorned with calligraphy and glazed ceramic goldfish. Four large tables near the front window seat up to eight people each, and a long banquet table to the side can accommodate about 16. During a recent weeknight visit, a family gathered there to celebrate a baby shower. Smaller groups grabbing quick bites filled up the four-tops in the middle of the space, and most of the visitors seemed to be friends and regulars. People seated at different tables would often greet each other or wave before leaving.
Flat-screen TVs mounted throughout the restaurant played slideshows of select menu items, like cubed mapo tofu drenched in devilish red sauce and a heaping pile of lamb skewered on toothpicks along with oily red peppers.
Some of these dishes are missing from the English-language menu, which includes an abridged list of 40 plates – they are the less spicy options, according to our server. The restaurant plans to expand the English menu and combine it with the Chinese version eventually, but for now, guests may have to resort to pointing to photos or other tables’ orders to try hotter offerings.
Along with standards like Mongolian beef and orange chicken, Lucky Star offers a variety of Szechuan and Cantonese foods.
Our server recommended one of his favorites, black pepper chicken on hot iron ($7.99), which is plated on a small skillet at the table for maximum sizzle. Bite-sized pieces of chewy chicken, onions, and bell peppers steam throughout the meal, and crunchy bits of black peppercorns burst with flavor in every chomp. The slightly sweet glaze offsets the pleasantly sharp spices in the dish.
The Singapore noodle ($7.99) is a stir-fried vermicelli seasoned with savory curry powder and packed with pieces of scrambled egg, yellow and green onions, chicken, shrimp, and beef. This plate has got everything: carbs, protein, vegetables, and lots of salt. For folks who typically go straight for the chow mein, this would be a slight, but rewarding, departure.
An unexpected standout is the vegetable dish bean curd with sliced egg and chives ($7.99). The star of the dish is the thin strands of five-spice pressed tofu (bean curd). The rich tofu slivers are lighter in the center and browned at the tips and edges, and have a satisfying, firm texture. Stir-fried with soy sauce, chopped chives provide a little more bite, with bits of scrambled eggs, onions, and peppers providing extra flavor. The portions are hefty at Lucky Star, and this is the only thing we came close to finishing.
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In the back of the restaurant, a hallway decorated with vinyl records and gold masks leads guests to several private karaoke rooms. The spaces are sleek, outfitted with red tufted leather sofas, touch-screen consoles, and flashy party lights. There are five small rooms, comfortable for four to six people, and they cost $40 an hour. The medium room seats 10 at $60 per hour, and the luxe VIP den runs $90 an hour. The third hour is free in each room. English song options are limited compared to the Chinese selection, but if the Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, and Lana Del Rey LPs on the walls are any indication, there are still plenty of familiar anthems to choose from. These rooms feature a small menu of snacks and drinks, including beer, sodas, cans of sweet milk, bottled water, and herbal teas.
Lucky Star is a solid option for both a casual Tuesday dinner and a poppin' Saturday night. Weekends can get crowded, so call ahead to reserve a karaoke room or one of the large tables in the dining room. And keep an eye on their Instagram feed (@luckystar1743) for a preview of tempting foods that may not be on the English menu yet.