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The line of eateries continues to grow at Restaurant Row, a 7-acre strip bordering Freedom Square at Collier Blvd. and U.S. 41 in East Naples. Tim Aten

The line of eateries continues to grow at Restaurant Row

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The line of eateries continues to grow at Restaurant Row with the addition of Pei Wei this week on the corner of Collier Boulevard and U.S. 41 East.

The fast casual concept for Pan Asian cuisine fell in line Monday in a building it shares with Chipotle Mexican Grill, which launched about a month ago with neighboring Texas Roadhouse. And Pei Wei’s fans got in line, too.

Although a few patrons may have come for opening day freebies and festivities, most were there for the food without having to drive to North Naples to enjoy it.

Suzan Wharton, who lives nearby the East Naples restaurant, has been closely following the progress and awaiting the opening date of Pei Wei. The new restaurant in her neighborhood means she won’t have to drive to North Naples to enjoy Pei Wei at Airport-Pulling and Vanderbilt Beach roads.

“In season I couldn’t get up there if my life depended on it,” she said. “I live five minutes up the road, and in season it takes a lot of time to get up to the Shoppes at Vanderbilt, so I was very excited for this restaurant.”

On opening day Wharton munched on lettuce wraps at a table on Pei Wei’s small patio.

“This is my favorite and I like the sushi. They do a great job on their sushi,” she said.

Sitting at a table nearby, Tonia Brock and her dinner companion, transplants from Knoxville, Tennessee, enjoyed Blazing Bangkok Peanut Noodles, a spicy dish they thought was delicious.

“Today we tried something new and it was really, really tasty. It had a lot of flavor to it,” she said.

Brock also enjoyed the environment and new area location of Pei Wei, a chain created in 2000 by P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.

► PHOTOS: Pei Wei opens in Restaurant Row

“I think it’s really nice out here on this corner because when we first got here, obviously there was nothing here and you would really have to drive all the way to P.F. Chang’s, and that’s a long way for somebody who wants to eat dinner in a short amount of time,” she said. “So, for all of these people, whether it be seasonal or fulltime residents, this is a great location here in East Naples.”

General Manager Nicki Hamlin, who relocated from Pei Wei in St. Petersburg, said the turnout on the restaurant’s first day here was good.

“It was actually a lot more than I was expecting,” she said. “As I was hiring, the whole neighborhood was flocking here, talking about how excited they were. So, that was nice.”

The nearly 100-seat restaurant brings 50 new jobs to East Naples. Cooks can clearly be seen wok-firing made-to-order meals in the open kitchen.

Pei Wei’s menu features shareable small plates, hand-rolled sushi and noodle, rice and salad bowls. A new hot dish this year is its spicy Polynesian poke bowl.

“Our Mongolian beef is our top seller by far hands down. Pad Thai is one of our bigger ones and the honey-seared chicken,” Hamlin said.

The restaurant’s wok classics may be customized for gluten-free and vegetarian diets, and red pepper symbols on the menu flag which choices are spicy, somewhat spicy or very spicy.

All the dining spots previously announced as coming to Restaurant Row have opened, but some additional spaces are available in the 7-acre strip bordering Freedom Square shopping center. A vacant space remains in the building shared by Starbucks and T-Mobile, and two structures have yet to be built.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As we add all these it becomes a destination,” said Charlie Ladd, president of Barron Commercial Development, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that has teamed up with Coral Springs-based Amera Corp. for the restaurant-centric development.

The spot between Pei Wei and Pollo Tropical has been proposed for a sports bar. Another multitenant strip to be built behind the Starbucks building could have two or three more possible eateries.

While dining at Pei Wei, Brock said she would love to see a wings joint or sports bar come to Restaurant Row.

“A sports bar I would think would just boom and for the residents it would be very, very good for them,” she said.

Wharton said she would like to see a good seafood restaurant in this part of town.

Pei Wei, 6821 Collier Blvd., unit 102, is open 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 239-530-1201 or go to peiwei.com.

For the latest in local restaurants coming and going, see Tim Aten’s “In the Know” columns archived at naplesnews.com/intheknow, and on Facebook at facebook.com/timaten.intheknow.

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