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GLOBAL : CORRESPONDENTS' COURSES : Times writers around the world reveal the names of their favoritelittle-known restaurants : JERUSALEM

October 20, 1985|D an Fisher

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.

Their secret is care. All the vegetables are hand-cut, for example. The Phoenix is known for its crisp egg rolls and "hot & sour" soup. The menu lists 82 main dishes. Among our favorites are the Sichuan beef, shrimp (fresh from Gaza) and cashews, chicken with pineapple and "capitol pork"--sweet, sour and spicy.

Sometimes it takes a few minutes to place your order, and getting the check after dinner isn't always easy, but the food is served piping hot. And when the bill does come, it will probably be a very reasonable $10 a person.

Fong hopes to expand soon. In the meantime, the Phoenix seats only about 50 persons, so it's wise to have a reservation. The restaurant is open every day except Sunday for lunch (noon to 2:45 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 to 10:45 p.m.), and you can even order carryout.

The Phoenix, 36 Ben Yehuda St., Jerusalem; telephone 245-363.

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