Cate Zone Takeaway. The best Chinese food I've ever had. Currently in my top two favorite St. Louis restaurants. Better than any Chinese food I ever had in Los Angeles or San Francisco. It's Szechuan, so add one spice level to everything. Expect 45-60 minutes for takeout or a table on Friday/Saturday. Huge portions. ~$30/person. Tip: Go for lunch if you don't want to wait. Eating in the restaurant is 1.5x better than takeout, which is still amazing.
Cate Zone Experience Summary
Cate Zone may be my favorite restaurant in St. Louis. If not, it's a close second to Union Loafers.
I've had Cate Zone maybe 20 times over the last four years. I've been in the restaurant three times, and we get takeout at least once a quarter. So 4 * 4 + 3 = 19.
And I still get excited every time I go.
It is genuinely authentic Szechuan with the kind of food that restaurants typically reserve for the "secret menu." And by "secret menu," I mean the sort of food I used to get in San Francisco when my co-workers would bring me to a restaurant and order off-menu items in Chinese. Heck, my buddy's uncle owned my favorite Chinese food in San Francisco, and this was better than what he would serve us.
My staple order is Chengdu chicken and sizzling eggplant. Either one is big enough as its own meal plus leftovers for the next day, so that's far too much food for any one human. In other words, the portions are so big you should expect to share food and still have enough for lunch tomorrow.
My one big tip is to try eating in person if possible. The takeout is still delicious, but having it in person is better. Everything is hotter, the sauces don't have time to make things soggy, and you get all the smells. It's just an overall better experience.
The other tip is Szechuan is spicy. So even stuff that doesn't say spicy is going to be spicy. Mentally add one spice level to whatever you're expecting.
And now my mouth is watering just thinking about it, so I'm going to go eat my leftovers.
The Food At Cate Zone
Chengdu Spicy Chicken Gets Its Own Header
My go-to there is the Chengdu spicy chicken. It's lightly breaded and perfectly fried chicken in a hot chili sauce - somehow crunchy without oozing oil. The chili sauce provides the exact perfect amount of spice such that you feel the spice with every bite, but you're not crying or sweating. So it adds maximum flavor to the dish without ruining your meal.
You have to be careful because the dish has a ton of pure chili peppers spread amongst the chicken. Eating a whole chili pepper and not just the flakes will cause you to have a bad time for five minutes. So you do have to be careful.
They have a fish version, aptly named "Spicy Fish," that all of my fish-eating friends adore like it adores this chicken.
Rounding Out The Meal
When we order as a family, there are typically three other dishes we add, listed below in order of my preference:
Sauteed Bok Choy
House Fried Noodles
The sizzling eggplant is the perfect complement to the Chengdu chicken. It still has level one spice, but the eggplant and sauce mellow out the intense heat from the chicken. I sometimes put it over rice to cut the heat even more.
The eggplant is perfectly fried and crunchy (I know I'm saying perfectly a lot, but it just is) and acts as the perfect vehicle for the mostly sweet, slightly spicy brown sauce. In addition to the sauce, some vegetables are on top with one secret ingredient. As a collective, we've decided that the secret ingredient must be mushrooms, but I'm still not entirely sure after eating it 12 times. It could be pork, but putting pork on an all-vegetable dish doesn't make sense, so I don't know.
I should probably just ask.
Since it was just me and a buddy this time, I didn't get the bok choy or house-fried noodles that are the staple of the family meal. The bok choy is served with a garlic sauce and is relatively plain. It's not as fancy as the other dishes, but the bok choy is fresh, the sauce is delicious, and it's so good.
My kids love the house noodles. They come with a fried egg, which the two of them fight over. My lunch the next day typically consists of chicken, house noodles, and a veggie.
Other Things To Try
Other things I've had there, all of which are delicious:
Twice Cooked Pork
Pork with shredded cabbage
Mixe Vegetables with Sauce
Shreaded Pork with Beancurd
Crisp Sauteed Pork
I've probably tasted more - everything is good. The ladies beside us were getting the Mala Tofu, which looked terrific, and the brisket soup, which I almost asked to try.
Man, I have to go back.
The other dish we got this visit was the Twice Cooked Pork. The pork had a great smokey flavor, and the vegetables paired with it well. I think the same mushrooms from the eggplant made an appearance. I wouldn't order it again, but I would eat it again. Does that make sense?
Cate Zone Atmosphere And Miscellaneous
The "problem" with Cate Zone is that it's incredibly packed on the weekends. Unless you arrive right when it opens at 5 p.m., you will be waiting on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.
You can expect a 45-to-60-minute takeout wait time on those days, too. So I call it in as soon as it opens at 5.
A trick may be to go during the week for lunch. Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., there was no wait through 12:45 p.m. when we left. The restaurant was only half full, which I hadn't seen before.
Another fun tidbit is that they raised the price on me. It's a straight $5 across-the-board hike - you can see the old price under the whiteout they used. Everything went from being $12.99 to $17.99. It's still worth it because the portions are enormous, and the food is delicious. But now I need to update the math on some other posts.
Parking At Cate Zone
Parking is interesting. Cate Zone is part of a random, unassuming strip mall on the side of Olive Blvd with ample parking. You might not get to park in front of the restaurant, but there will be a spot.
What is interesting is avoiding the parking for the market next door. I've gotten yelled at before, even when I'm just running in for five minutes to get a pickup order. So don't park in those marked spaces.
Cate Zone Receipt