To quote Monty Python’s Eric Idle: I like Chinese. To expand on that, I like sushi, Korean Barbecue, Vietnamese pho, Thai curry and a lot more. When it comes to the foods of what we still refer to as “The East,” my taste buds are always happy and ready to go—that is unless they’ve been numbed up good and proper by some Sicuan pepper. And while Little Rock might be known for things other than Chinese and other Asian food, we have some pretty tasty places in our fair city that are well worth a visit. Or several.
Here are our Eat Arkansas picks for best Asian dishes from around the city, in no particular order.
*Sesame Chicken, Chi’s Asian Cafe Riverdale: I love sesame chicken, but boy do a lot of places screw it up. The most common sin with this dish is that the breading can’t stand up to the sauce—or isn’t fried worth squat in the first place. Not so at Chi’s in Riverdale. Tender, moist chicken with a thin, crispy breading make for bite after delightful bite, and since it’s prepared fresh-to-order, it’s sauced close enough to the time when it hits the table that nothing has time to get soggy.
*Nigiri Sushi, Wasabi Sushi Bar & Grill: Recently re-opened with new management and a new attitude, Wasabi downtown has quickly become one of my favorite spots for sushi. The fish is fresh, the rice is well-prepared, and the service is very friendly. Not a fan of fish? Go for the yakisoba and let your mouth have a tasty noodle party.
*Pu Pu Tray, Fu Lin: Fu Lin’s Pu Pu Tray comes with something very few dishes in town offer: Real live fire. And a lot of it. As a matter of fact, the last time I ate this collection of appetizers that includes a selection of egg rolls, crab rangoon, sweet-and-sour chicken and stickmeat, the flames coming from the brazier on the tray were actually higher when I was finished than they were when the tray was first placed in front of me. And it isn’t friendly, Christmas Morning, Franklin Roosevelt-speech type fire either. It’s angry, sputtery fire. Still, the food is divine. As for the flames…YMMV.
*Noodle Bowl, Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.: No matter what you put on top of them—chicken, pork or tofu—these bowls from Three Fold are the Little Rock gold standard when it comes to noodles. Chewy without being too dense, delightfully tender and never soggy, the addition of fresh cilantro and other toppings to these noodles makes for a filling lunch or dinner for not a lot of money. Go ahead and buy two—it makes for a good next-day lunch, too.
*Beef Lo Mein, Fantastic China: Another great spot for noodles, Fantastic China has been a staple of the Heights dining scene for years. The various homemade dumplings are stellar, and I’ve always enjoyed their basic, simple lo mein with beef. It isn’t fancy or ground-breaking, but it’s perfect comfort food that’s well-prepared.
*The Buffet, Tokyo House: Is this one cheating? I feel like it may be cheating, because this is a buffet we’re talking about. I like the sushi at Tokyo House, and even though I don’t think the place’s high dollar Friday Night Buffet With Crab Legs is worth the significant percentage of my light bill it costs, Tokyo House is a good option for Monday-Thursday dinner or a quick lunch. It’s fresh…enough. Most of the time. If you are vigilant, you won’t go wrong here, and when the chefs are working it, they turn out rolls as good as any in town.
*Steamed Gyoza, General Tso’s Chicken, Mr. Chen’s: Ah, Mr. Chen’s. I could probably have just written this post about the best things from this cafe located inside one of central Arkansas’ best Asian supermarkets. I love their steamed gyoza, although I admit they really aren’t much different than you find anywhere else. The General Tso’s chicken, on the other hand, is head and shoulders over anybody else’s version around—and together, the two dishes make for a nice one-two punch. And if you’re in the mood for something different, get the Roast Duck on Rice—it’s a fantastic duck dish.
Doing a list like this means exactly one thing: I probably missed your favorite, most likely so egregiously that some of you will wonder how I even dared to post this list in the first place. I feel you. So if you have a dish you think I missed, head down there to the comments section and tell everybody about it. Also head to the comments to give me grief for including Tokyo House. I did admit it was cheating.