Who says you have to visit a big city to find authentic Asian cuisine? Lo and behold, pan-Asian offerings and Cantonese specialties abound at Banana Leaf, a locally owned restaurant tucked inside a popular Cary strip mall.
Seasoned chef/proprietor Hon Lai, a soft-spoken native of Hong Kong, enjoys cooking a diverse array of Asian offerings. Consider Japanese shrimp noodle soup, Korean-style spicy chicken wings, Thai grilled beef or Vietnamese seafood triple delight, to name a few.
Begin your dining experience with Malaysian coconut soup, which serves two people, an order of crab Rangoon or chicken lettuce wrap. The fried dumpling with Thai sauce is also a solid starter.
If you come with friends, choose a large round table with a lazy Susan to ensure that everyone gets a taste of the delectable dishes made by Banana Leaf chef Hon Lai.
Reliably good noodle-centric dishes include vegetable lo mein; hot and spicy chicken chow fun; and Malaysian noodles with shrimp, chicken and pork. Casseroles such as salted fish and chicken with eggplant and sliced pork belly with preserved vegetables also keep things interesting.
Even straightforward Chinese-American classics benefit from Lai’s unique interpretation. Try the savory General Tso’s chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce or pepper steak with onion.
Intriguing seafood selections range from sautéed shrimp and scallops with XO sauce to braised grouper to fresh squid. Among the 18 maritime choices, the flavorsome salt and pepper fish filet stands out.
While all the options are well executed, the house specialties category is where Lai’s talents are brought to the forefront. Case in point: Hong Kong-style spicy salted prawn delivers on its promised piquancy.
The same goes for Szechuan-style sliced fish and black pepper lamb, which will leave your lips tingling. Then there’s the crown jewel of the menu, Peking duck, a rare find in the Triangle area. It’s wise to call ahead to check the availability of the duck entrée.
The cheery decor at Banana Leaf provides a decidedly Asian flair.
Still have room for something sweet? If so, go for a fried banana, seasonal fruit or house daily special dessert like fried sesame ball with lotus paste or tapioca-imbued red bean and coconut cream soup.
“The chef has put a lot of time and effort into ensuring high quality here at the restaurant,” said affable manager Verry Chu. “He shops every day at the Asian markets to get the best and freshest ingredients possible. He then cooks everything himself, and he has nearly 40 years of experience in the kitchen.”
Banana Leaf’s expansive dining room provides plenty of seating for guests, whether you choose a traditional four-top or a larger round table with a lazy Susan in the center. Vibrant, yellow-hued walls and bamboo ac-cents provide a distinctly modern Asian atmosphere.
Servers are friendly, efficient and eager to please. Don’t hesitate to ask your waiter or waitress for recommendations regarding spice levels and off-menu items (fried oysters, for example).
“I dine here several times a week, and I really enjoy the flavor and variety of the food,” said Banana Leaf devotee John Gensinger, a local real estate investor. “I particularly like the Peking duck, the pork belly and the steamed fish in soy sauce. The chef always does a fantastic job cooking what I like to eat.”
Weekday lunch specials are priced under $7, making the midday meal easy on the wallet. Lunch entrées are served with spring rolls and fried or white rice.
Crispy Peking duck is an enticing delicacy at Banana Leaf, but call ahead to check the dish’s availability.
Banana Leaf is open seven days a week. Reservations are accepted. The restaurant also accommodates large parties for special occasions.
1026 Ryan Road
Village Square Shopping Center, Cary
(919) 468-9958, bananaleafcary.com
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