Sitting on Olive Boulevard next to an acupuncture salon and a Chinese market, Cate Zone Chinese Cafe has emerged as one of the most popular authentic Chinese restaurants in St. Louis. The restaurant, led by owners Daniel Ma and Quincy Lin, was designed to deliver the delicious cuisine of the Dongbei region of China to St. Louis. And since, in true Chinese fashion, my family has a propensity for gluttony, we decided to visit Cate Zone to see if the food lived up to the hype.
Upon walking inside, I immediately noticed the casual feel of the restaurant. The customers, mainly young Chinese students, laughed and conversed loudly as they enjoyed meals with each other. There was quite a bit of energy packed into the cafe-sized space.
The decor is whimsical and modern. The black walls have the names of New York City subway stations written on them, and the black chairs and tables are a nice complement. Pictures of the Empire State Building and the Flatiron building adorn the left wall, while a poem in Chinese is displayed on an adjacent wall.
There is a considerable wait time to be seated if you do not order to-go. Given the size of the restaurant, the popularity and the fact that you cannot make reservations, expect no less than a 30 minute wait time during lunch or dinner times. My family and I waited close to an hour.
When finally seated and salivating, we started off our meal with lamb skewers seasoned with crushed red pepper and cumin, just like my grandma’s. After roughly 15 minutes of waiting, the waiter brought over the steaming plate of grilled lamb on sticks.
Luckily, they did not disappoint. Salty, meaty and extremely addictive, the plate was reduced to a pile of oily sticks within a minute. Next, we dove into a plate of cold noodles with sesame sauce. The dish, balanced with crisp vegetables and a savory, cool sauce, was a refreshing palate cleanser and added much-needed brightness to an otherwise heavy meal.
The Dongbei-style sweet-sour pork followed. Think Panda Express’s Orange Chicken but more savory, thinner and with a sour spin. Glazed in a sweet, golden sauce, these heavenly crisp pork slices was an excellent harmony of sweet, sour, and savory and added textural variety to the course with its crunch.
Alongside the pork was a favorite of our family: laziji, which translates to “spicy chicken.” It consists of small, lightly fried chunks of chicken tossed with a pile of red peppers, crushed red peppers and spices. I do precaution this dish is not for the light of heart in terms of spice. But if you can handle the heat, the moist chicken, intense savoriness and spice create a divine plate of food.
We ended the meal with glazed and fried sweet potatoes with sugar floss. On top of a pile of caramelized sweet potatoes was a tower of sugar strings. Even though it looked really cool, the sugar on the potatoes cools down really quickly, making it stick to your teeth easily and annoyingly hard to chew.
The staff was great and gave awesome recommendations for what we ordered. The service time was a tad lengthy, but it wasn’t really that noticeable. The price of each dish is a very reasonable $10-12 dollars because the servings are extremely generous.
So if you ever crave Chinese cuisine in St. Louis, put down the P.F. Chang’s take out menu and visit or call Cate Zone Chinese Cafe. It easily rivals other popular Chinese restaurants in the area such as LuLu’s and Mandarin House, and it is certainly a restaurant that I will revisit again.