If you're torn between the exotic and the familiar, Ben Pao is your happy compromise. Though its Chinese fare is hardly served in an authentic atmosphere (read: all the servers are American and the space is trendily outfitted in red and black), the food remains delicious and the service, amiable.
Take a seat at the circular bar or head deeper into the dining room, where the good-for-groups spot makes true on its reputation, with large tables that accommodate parties digging into the skewered tamarind chicken satay ($4.95).
Dressed up dishes still ring familiar—the ginger asparagus shrimp adds Fresno chilies and shitake mushrooms to the mix, and the tangy sweet & sour chicken comes with mango, pineapple, kiwi and lychees. Our recommendations: The chocolate banana eggrolls served with vanilla ice cream are sensational, as are the Sake Sangria, the Lemon Gingertini and homemade passion fruit juice. Priced low for the area, the average entree costs $10.95-$15.95 and the most expensive entree (black peppered sea scallops) is $19.95.
Diners seeking an eccentric eating event will love Ben Pao's Hot Pot Cafe, which caters to private parties of four to eight. Meals are cooked tableside by the customers; servers provide only the meats, sauces, garnishes and boiling broth in mesh baskets to cook in. The whole she-bang costs $19.95 per person, with a $12 up-charge for a "Ben Pao Wine Tasting." Reservations recommended on the weekends.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Carly Schwartz