Located at the corner of Stanton Avenue and Butler Street, Zen Asian Diner is one of the newest upscale restaurants in the Lawrenceville area. A few years ago it was Oriental Wok and then it converted to Lucky Dragon. Two months ago it closed completely and re-opened as Zen.
The area is going through a conversion from bars and used car lots to yuppie bars, ethnic cuisine and in influx of college students that are seeking to get away from the Oakland scene. When I saw the menu for Zen I had to laugh. Sushi in Lawrenceville? I was extremely skeptical about it. The location was almost infamous for it’s name changes over the years so I had to see it for myself.
Walking through the door you are blown away at the interior. If you’ve been there in the past then you know how grubby and worn everything looked. Everything has been remodeled and replaced and there are now seven large tables and a small sushi bar. Two plasma televisions have various sports playing but it’s the comfy and cozy feel of it that makes you forget exactly where you are.
The menu is impressive with everything from the standard Chinese picks like shrimp fried ride and wonton soup to bento boxes, sashimi and sushi lunch specials. The prices are reasonable but the presentation is excellent. I had one of the vegetarian specials, my all time favorite of eggplant in garlic sauce. I asked to have fried tofu added to it and was pretty happy that it was only a dollar extra. The downside was that it was served with green peppers and carrots mixed in with it. The sauce was a little on the thin side but it was edible.
My friend ordered the teriyaki chicken ($10.00) which came with a bowl of miso soup and a salad. The grilled vegetable served with the chicken were cooked perfectly but the chicken breast was a little on the thin side. Even so, for the price it was a lot better than I expected. Our server didn’t speak the best English but she did come out to double check our order. The shrimp eggrolls were standard, the typical frozen mass produced eggrolls but they didn’t have a rank stale oil taste to them.
When we were walking to Zen from the car I wasn’t sure about what I was going to get; it really depended on what it looked like on the inside and if it was the same management with another name. I am so happy that I was completely wrong about Zen because you can never have too many Chinese and sushi restaurants to choose from.
PROS: Expansive menu, cozy environment, BYOB policy, delivery available, 1.00 soft drinks with free refills, lunch specials, bento boxes, $5.75 lunch specials, $7.75 dinner specials.
CONS: Parking can be problematic, small bathrooms, no baby changing station in the bathroom, no liquor license (but they do have a BYOB policy), music was looped and slightly annoying.
One of the real treats of the dinner was when the chef came out to ask us how our meal was. There were only five or six other people eating so it wasn’t busy but it was a nice touch. He came back out with a tempura ice cream (deep fried ice cream) and asked us if we would try it and tell him if we liked it. It is a menu item for $3.95 and it was heavenly. Messy to eat but definitely something that I would drive out of my way to get in the summer.
There are no shortage of sit-down Chinese restaurants in Pittsburgh so Zen is going to have some competition. They are not ‘fast food’ but while we were eating at least twenty people came in to pick up ordered or to place orders to go.
They accept MasterCard, Visa and American Express (as well as cash) and have better hours than the previous Chinese restaurants that have operated in the location. Monday through Thursday: 11:00 am to 10:00 pm, Friday and Saturday: 11:00 am to 11:00 pm and Sunday Noon to 9:30 pm. Delivery is available on orders over $15.00.