In a strip center way, way up the Dallas North Tollway on 380 in Prosper is a tidy little restaurant that can't be much larger than a juice bar. But what The Chinese Neighbor lacks in size it makes up for in spunk.
Despite the name, The Chinese Neighbor isn't really a Chinese restaurant. Consulting chef and partner Bob Tam calls it Chinese-American food, and he takes Chinese ingredients and jams them next to American ones. Take the cheeseburger eggroll: It's a fried eggroll with a beef patty in the middle, ramekins of "Chinese 1000 island" and hot mustard mayo on the side. The menu also includes smoked brisket fried rice served with Stubb's barbecue sauce; and a dumpling burger, with moist pork and beef — the insides of a steamed dumpling — sitting as the burger patty. It comes with cheese and caramelized onions on an English muffin. OK, why not?
"I didn't want somebody else to interpret what Chinese-American food is," Tam says. He was born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco.
A few of Tam's dishes don't have a fusion element, like the egg foo yung and the General Tso's chicken. But Tam seems most excited by the less traditional dishes.
Tam jokes that he'd been wanting to open a Chinese-American restaurant for years — "and this was before Crazy Rich Asians," he says, a recent pop cultural sign that Americans are even more interested in Asian culture.
Tam has a background working as head R&D chef for P.F. Chang's and got his start training with Cecilia Chiang, the chef Bon Appetit says "forever changed the makeup of Chinese restaurants in the U.S." Today, beyond launching The Chinese Neighbor, Tam is the executive chef partner for Bitter and Twisted, a restaurant in Phoenix known for its cocktail program.
Tam says The Chinese Neighbor will pop up in nine more locations in North Texas, and his team is looking at areas like Uptown Dallas and Frisco.
The coming-soon iterations of The Chinese Neighbor might be slightly different: bigger or boozier, depending on the neighborhood, says a spokeswoman. Both seem like a good idea.
"Ten years ago, there wasn't a lot of support for new things like this," Tam says, gesturing inside that first Chinese Neighbor, in a far-out shopping center in Prosper. Today, he says, "people are much more willing to be accepting. I think the opportunity is now."