It's often crowded and noisy; most government building cafeterias have nicer furniture, and the service is spotty. But the prices are right, and the food is excellent. A co-owner named Quant Fong Le (known to friends and customers as Fong) may be the most garrulous and interesting maitre d' in town.
How can you go wrong with a Chinese restaurant run by a former South Vietnamese army helicopter pilot who speaks Hebrew and has a daughter named Israela?
Fong is one of about 300 Vietnamese "boat people" who settled in Israel at the invitation of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Fong escaped a Viet Cong "re-education camp" in 1979 and, along with a friend who fled Vietnam on the same boat, opened the Phoenix in 1982. Four of the five employees are also Vietnamese.
The restaurant rose from the fiscal ashes of an unlamented Chinese predecessor called the Formosa. But the Phoenix has had spectacularly different results.