A Chinese restaurant with a familiar past is expected to open by early March 2022 on SMU Boulevard in Dallas.
Cafe Hunan is the reincarnated version of Hunan Express, a restaurant that served Chinese food in Dallas from 1997 to 2012 in a small storefront near the Ritz-Carlton in Uptown.
Dallas chef Dean Fearing was a regular at Hunan Express. In a Dallas Morning News story in 2007, Fearing called it a “little dive I love.” His favorite dishes were shrimp and green bean stir fry and Mongolian beef, with broccoli added.
For more than 10 years, the only place Dallasites could get Hunan Express’ food was at a food stand inside UT Southwestern’s food courts . Owner Mark Carey has decided to delve back into traditional restaurant ownership with a new restaurant on an old block — SMU Boulevard, home to college hangouts such as Milo Butterfingers and Barley House as well as newer eateries like Oishii and the coming-soon Goodbye Horses bar.
Cafe Hunan will open next to Torchy’s Tacos, in the former SushiFork restaurant space.
Carey started working in Chinese restaurants as a young teen in Houston, where chefs taught him to cook. He then went to work in the landscaping business, but he always had the itch to operate his own Chinese restaurant, he says.
He opened Hunan Express after he moved to Dallas and said he “couldn’t get any good Chinese food.”
Hunan Express eventually closed because rent got too high, Carey says. He’s eager to open the restaurant back up in a new part of Dallas, using many of the same recipes from the former spot.
He’ll bring back Fearing’s favorite, Mongolian beef, as well as orange beef and a selection of lo meins. He expects to sell hundreds of spring rolls and egg rolls, which his team makes fresh daily.
The restaurant will occasionally roast Peking duck, to make Peking duck pancakes. And Carey is working on a new recipe for dumplings filled with leeks and vegetables, pork or chicken, which are then fried.
He hopes his Chinese chicken salad with crispy noodles is a popular addition. Taking inspiration from a Los Angeles chef who sells some $50,000 a month in Chinese chicken salad, Carey’s will be made with lettuce, white-meat chicken, crunchy noodles and a ginger-sesame oil dressing.
“It’s not really overcomplicated,” he says. “But what’s in it is really good — strong and powerful.”
Cafe Hunan will be at 5600 SMU Boulevard #101, Dallas. It’s expected to open in early March 2022.