Nearly 30 years ago, Flo Chan left her native Hong Kong and wound up in the Valley because she liked the weather.
Flash forward to 2017, where she and her husband, Dustin Wallace, are marking the 20th anniversary of their restaurants, Flo’s New Asian Cuisine, including one in Tempe.
They just don’t work on their menu, either.
“We are working hard to be a positive environment in the East Valley,” Wallace said, noting he and his wife have supported fundraisers for local schools and provide food and support through local charities.
Most of Flo’s Tempe 43 employees also live in the East Valley, including hostess Olivia Kurschat and bartender Ashley Martinez, both of Tempe.
With locations also at McDowell Mountain and in Scottsdale, Flo’s offers “a blend of traditional Asian fare with a dash of modern gastronomy — all with the fresh flavors of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Southeast Asian, Japanese and Indian cuisines,” said Wallace, a Nebraska native who studied Mandarin in college and spent two years in China afterward.
“We call the style ‘tradition with a twist,’” he added.
In turn, foodies, gourmands, bloggers and just admirers have thanked Chan and Wallace for years through conversation, e-mail and websites for their signature “China-meets-Japan” hot and sour soup, salt and pepper chicken wings, lettuce cups and the pine nut shrimp.
New dishes that regulars already are chatting about include the Thai-inspired red curry with scallops, with lemongrass coconut cream, galangal and East Coast sea scallops, and Vietnamese rice noodle soup, with beef tenderloin, bean sprouts, and chilies.
“Flo knew from the moment we opened that inspiration doesn’t come out of a can; it comes from traveling, tasting and experiencing a windfall of Asian food,” he added, noting that he also has been inspired by culinary trips nationwide and worldwide. In turn, Flo loves to create new dishes and teach about the culinary traditions of Asia.
Chan was raised in Hong Kong and graduated with honors from high school while learning traditions and recipes of China and other Southeast Asian cuisines from her parents.
About 28 years ago, she left for the United States, following her brother to what was then Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), where she worked in restaurants to earn money for school. Following graduation, she immigrated to the United States and moved to the Valley because she liked the weather.
The financial climate was sunny, too. After meeting through a Scottsdale friend, she and Wallace opened the first restaurant.
“It was kind of a whim, and we thought we’d try it,” he recalled.
From the start, Chef Lee was there with them. Born on the Vietnam/China border, he immigrated to the United States in 1979 as a teenage refugee of the Sino-Vietnamese War.
He brought sharp and wide-ranging insights to the kitchen. “People ask me where I’m from. Vietnam? China? I tell them, ‘I don’t know,’” said Lee, who makes daily quality-control visits to each of the three Flo’s sites.
The three locations serve lunch, dinner and happy hour daily. On Saturday, brunch, from noon to 3 p.m. is specially priced. At all times, expect take-home portions.
Cooked to order, the signature hot and sour soup is influenced by the cuisine of Hubei province in central China.
“Some say that this soup originated in neighboring Sichuan, and the people of various provinces debate it comes from their area,” Dustin said.
In addition to a proprietary spice blend, Flo’s uses two vinegars, a thicker black variety as well as the more common white. The result: a hardier, richer soup than normally served, similar to a New Orleans-style bouillabaisse.
The salt and pepper chicken wings are also cooked to order. “Our chefs lightly bread them then toss the wings with a spicy chili-salt blend,” said Wallace. “This pairs beautifully with the Chinese Tsing Tao Beer, crafted in the Pilsner tradition of the once-German-occupied area.”
All dishes are MSG-free, and customers can request gluten-free, low sodium and heart-healthy.
“Everything is cooked fresh to order, and our servers always ask how spicy they want the food,” he added.