Healthy Chinese takeout isn't always an oxymoron. Red Mei, which calls itself a "fresh Asian cafe," serves up simple takes on favorite Chinese and Thai dishes.
Brothers Jehat and Yusuf Mehmetoglu opened the fast-casual restaurant in Old Town Alexandria in 2005. Inspired by his work in several local Asian restaurants, Jehat set a goal of improving standard dishes with ingredients that were more healthful. He also consulted with Thai friends to plan the restaurant's small, affordable menu.
"All our sauces are made here from scratch, and the vegetables are fresh," he says. Dishes are prepared with peanut oil, but the restaurant will substitute olive oil for those with peanut allergies.
The menu includes starters, salads and two kids' options, but it consists mostly of entrees, served with a scoop of steamed white rice. Customers have the option of ordering most of the dishes with either chicken, beef or shrimp. Everything is cooked to order in woks on burners near the front of the restaurant, and dishes can be customized to incorporate more vegetables, fewer peanuts or light oil. The vegetables are crunchy, the flavors are vivid and the food is always steaming hot.
Jehat Mehmetoglu says the restaurant goes through a few crates of lemons each week, and in several dishes the bright acid shines through. The tangy pad Thai is a terrific rendition of the popular noodle dish, with zesty, light rice noodles, crisp bean sprouts and snap peas, and soft tofu. The chicken in the Thai Ginger Garlic Chicken has been known to be dry, but fresh broccoli and the punch of chili peppers, cilantro and visible flecks of ginger in a lemon-based hot sauce help make up for it.
-- Erin Hartigan (Updated March 13, 2012)