Meaty spareribs, crispy noodles and a side order of culinary education are found at a popular Chinese-American eatery

Hawaiian duck, breaded and deep fried.  Red sauce on the side.

Bird Nest Tree, a 40-year veteran of the dining scene serving residents of western Delray Beach’s condo communities, seems an anachronism. A friendly server made dining enjoyable.


The first time we went to Bird Nest Tree, a neighborhood Chinese restaurant in western Delray Beach, eight years ago, I swore it would be our last.

I recall the food being banal, typical Chinese-American fare, a style of cooking that I had lost interest in, and not much different in taste or quality from other so-called Chinese eateries in Delray Beach, or many other places. I really had no desire to return.

Recently, a neighbor suggested we give Bird Nest Tree another try, noting that the family owned eatery, which has been catering to residents of the nearby condo communities for more than 40 years, had terrific spareribs at the very least.

My wife, who enjoys spare ribs, reminded me that were suffering from colds during that first visit and suggested we might take up our neighbor’s recommendation. I relented and we went for a mid-week dinner at Bird Nest Tree.

The restaurant, steps away from a Winn-Dixie supermarket in the same strip center (The Market Place of Delray) on Military Trail at West Atlantic Avenue, was empty except for two booths occupied by a total of six patrons.  Our visit proved, however, to be a somewhat delightful experience, but only because of Jackson, our gracious, engaging server.

As far as I’m concerned little has changed at Bird Nest Tree since our first visit, except, perhaps, for higher prices on the menu.

Bird Nest Tree is her Winn Dixie.

Bird Nest Tree dining room.

Inside the storefront restaurant, you’ll first encounter the obligatory tropical fish tank, Formica-topped booth tables with planters sprouting small bamboo stalks, wood parquet tables in the center of the mirrored dining room and Chinese zodiac placemats everywhere.  Red Chinese lanterns are suspended from the ceiling.

There’s still an early bird dinner – served until 8 p.m. – that includes soup or egg roll, entrée and dessert (ice cream or canned pineapple). And there’s a large assortment of combination platters.

All the favorites of a bygone dining era populate the menu: wonton and egg drop soups, egg rolls, pupu platter, spare ribs, egg foo yung, subgum, moo goo gai pan, chicken chow mein, and chop suey, to name a few.  I can’t remember the last time I saw chow mein and chop suey on a menu.

To be sure, there are a few concessions to more contemporary Chinese fare: kung pau chicken (ku po here), Szechuan beef, and General Tso’s chicken (General Tao’s here). Guessing they would lack authenticity, I avoided them with one exception — hot and sour soup, a benchmark I use when dining on Chinese fare. More on this later.

Jackson, our server, the only front of the house worker in the restaurant except for an owner busy with takeout orders, was occupied with the demands of customers at the two other tables.

At one booth, a customer asked Jackson to remove the soup and egg rolls they’d been served since they didn’t eat pork and were unaware that these dishes contained pork as an ingredient. (C’mon, how could you not know this in a Chinese restaurant?) Jackson didn’t flinch, removed the offending dishes and cheerfully offered to replace them with porcine-free alternatives. They declined.

Meanwhile, diners at another table provided us with an educational opportunity. They insisted their food be served Boston style. Huh? I’d only heard of Boston-style Chinese food not too long ago as part of a discussion on social media.

So, as Jackson brought our dishes to our table, I asked him about Boston style. He explained that it’s the same food, only served with a deep-brown sauce. I learned something new. And, I remarked, “It’s still American Chinese food.” He smilingly agreed. (Upon further research, I learned that Boston-style Chinese food is sweeter and brown hued from the addition of molasses.)

Jackson asked us what we’d like to drink. Tea and water, we replied. “It’s very good water,” he told us. “We have a water purification system.”

Our meal began auspiciously with terrific crunchy, crispy noodle squares, perfect for dunking in duck sauce. My wife quickly moved them as far away from me as she could.

Hot and sour soup.

Egg roll and spare ribs.

As my wife sipped her wonton soup and I my hot-and-sour, I explained to Jackson that usually when we wanted Chinese food, we’d head south to Lauderdale Lakes, Tamarac or Sunrise, where there’s an Asian-American community to support restaurants serving legit Chinese fare. He seemed a bit surprised that I’d do that and was even more taken aback after I explained that during the early days of the pandemic lockdown and desperate for Chinese food I made my own char siu bao (baked roast pork buns) and pan-fried noodles.  “You know how to cook these?” he asked. I explained that I found recipes in a cookbook (“The Chinese Kitchen” by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo). And then I showed him the photos on my phone of my Chinese kitchen work. He was impressed and said he did not know how to cook.

And what of the fare at Bird Nest Tree? Our soups arrived in a blink. Wonton soup was a lightly flavored broth loaded with shreds of pork along with the dumplings. Hot and sour soup was a deep-brown-hued, flavorful broth filled with mushrooms, water chestnut slices, tofu and some greens, perhaps seaweed. Alas, it had only hints of vinegar and heat.

We also sampled the ribs recommended by our neighbor. They were not big, perhaps 5-inches ling, but they were nonetheless meaty, and arrived slathered with a sticky, sweet barbecue sauce. An eggroll that joined the two ribs in our sampler ($6), was a narrow oblong not much longer than the ribs. It was crisp and greaseless, but seemed to contain only shredded cabbage.

Roast pork chow fun.

My wife, a less-discerning diner than I and one with a sweet tooth, ordered the Hawaiian duck ($15.25), a heavily breaded, deep-fried, sliced half bird flanked by four fire-red maraschino cherries and accompanied by a red, sweet and sour sauce with pineapple. “That’s a lot of duck,” Jackson remarked as he set it on the table.”  Nevertheless, she ate it all with relish, though she removed most of the breading.

I ordered roast pork chow fun ($14.55), a Cantonese dish found in pretty much all Chinese eateries outside of China. It’s usually made by stir-frying meat with wide, flat rice noodles (he fen or huo fun), scallions, ginger, bean sprouts and dark soy sauce.  Red-edged slices of tender char siu (barbecued pork – obviously not cooked with the rest of the ingredients but tossed in before serving) redeemed the otherwise grease-laden dish. The accompanying pork fried rice, an unnecessary side dish when eating noodles, was dry and lifeless.

Our entertaining and educational evening ended with traditional Chinese-American desserts, small dishes of airy ice cream and fortune cookies. I could have done without the fortune cookies. I already knew that Bird Nest Tree, despite its seeming popularity and Jackson’s friendly service, would not loom large in my future, except maybe for some spareribs.

Bird Nest Tree

14545-G South Military Trail, Delray Beach, FL 33484


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