By J.D. Herman
Chang’s Cafe is a quaint and accessible eatery on the corner of Braeswood and Fondren. Sitting on the west side of the Food Town Shopping Center it is a great spot for a quick lunch or a casual dinner. The newly revamped shopping center has a fresh contemporary feel and is visual evidence that this area of Brays Oaks Management District is continuously improving.
Chang’s Cafe, which has been around for nearly 15 years, was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “It took three or four months for us to recover,” notes Jack, one of the managers. Like many area business and residents, they pushed through the rebuilding process and came out better on the other side.
The cafe offers old fashioned counter service so I placed my lunch order at the register and grabbed a comfortable booth in the corner. As I waited for my food to be freshly prepared–more on that in a minute–I made a few observations. Chang’s does a brisk delivery business. The phone was ringing as fast as they could answer it, and they took orders throughout my visit. Doing a good volume of deliveries is almost always a guaranteed sign of good, quality food. This boded well for me and I was eager to taste the items I had ordered.
I have a few go-to items at Chinese restaurants, including the mainstay: fried rice. Chang’s Cafe offers shrimp, pork, beef, even veggie versions, as well as chicken-fried rice (which I ordered). I also decided to indulge in my favorite guilty pleasure–orange chicken. I say “guilty-pleasure” because a good orange chicken is usually pretty sweet for an entrée, which is probably why the dish is so popular. The combination of sweet and savory knows no culinary boundary. Orange chicken, done well, takes things a step further with a good zing of spice. I looked forward to mine arriving.
I waited long enough to know this was no pre-prepared, drive-through, express, Chinese food. You could see, hear and smell the entrées being made. The scallions, ginger, garlic filled the air and my mouth was beginning to water when my first dish arrived.
Steam was rising off the plate as they placed it on the table. My first impression was to note the generous proportion of food. I was going to have leftovers and my orange chicken had not even arrived yet! The rice had a great smoky flavor and was cooked expertly. What was most notable, and my marker for an excellent fried rice, was that the dish wasn’t too salty. Often times lack of flavor in fried rice is overcome by adding gobs of salt or soy sauce. This is not the case with Chang’s recipe. I was pleased to say the least.
The orange chicken arrived shortly after my first few bites of fried rice and looked amazing from the jump. The chef gets extra points for the great presentation–the chicken centered with broccoli florets evenly placed on the perimeter of the old school dinner style plates. The flavors of the orange chicken were a perfect blend of sweet, savory, and spicy. The chicken, all white meat, was battered and cooked to retain juiciness while offering a delicious crisp. A home run.
While my visit focused on rice and chicken dishes, Chang’s offer variety, you should definitely consider the noodles dishes like chow mein, lo mein or the traditional egg foo young (omelet style dish with meat/veggies). Their veggie and seafood options (General “Joe’s” tofu, cashew shrimp) are also highly regarded and worthy of your attention.
Ann Ha, the owner of Chang’s Cafe, should be proud. They make great food to order for residents in the Brays Oaks Management District. This excellent food combined with the nicely appointed and remodeled shopping center makes Chang’s worth a visit. Put it at the top of your list of places to try–you will not be disappointed.
9645 Fondren Rd