Sushi places seem to have been cropping up in the Little Rock area faster than you can say “wasabi” in recent years, but there's still something to be said for a nice, hot plate of Chinese food. While we dig the sushi — dig it a little too much, if the bill at the last place we indulged is any measure — there are lunch hours when all we'd pretty much sign our grandma into indentured servitude in exchange for a little fried rice, some egg rolls and a mound of chicken smothered in some soul-searingly-hot sauce.
Recently, the Chinese food jones hit in full force, which gave us a great excuse to burn some $4-a-gallon gas and head for the new Gina's Chinese Kitchen and Sushi Bar on Highway 10. It's well worth the trip.
First off, we liked the menu. Unlike some Chinese restaurants, where the list of items on the menu is as long as the “Attorneys” section of the phone book, Gina's slate of items is compact and easy to manage. When it comes to restaurants, we've always ascribed to the Less is More theory. After all, if a restaurant makes 233 items, how can they possibly make any of them well?
From the generous list of appetizers, we decided to go with an old favorite: the potsticker dumplings ($4.95 for six). From the solid list of reasonably priced lunch entrees, our companion went with the Szechuan shrimp ($7.25), while we tried our old standby, which we've pretty much had at every restaurant in town: the orange chicken ($6.95).
The dumplings arrived quick and hot, served with a side of sweet dipping sauce. They were stuffed with a sweet mixture of pork and veggies. Even though we came in for a late lunch and the place was empty, they were freshly made, with none of the rubbery texture dumplings can have after sitting around awhile.
The lunch specials were generous, and served with soup (egg drop, wonton or hot and sour), fried rice, a bowl of fried noodles, a chicken wing, and an egg roll.
The orange chicken was some of the best we've had in Little Rock — crunchy nuggets of deep-fried chicken, covered in a not-too-sweet sauce. Though the sauce could have been several magnitudes hotter for my taste, the best thing about it was the restraint with the orange flavor-ing. Here, it was a sweet little note in the melody.
Also fine were the egg drop soup and the fried rice, which only needed a shot of soy sauce to be great. The experience was much the same with our companion, who said his Szechuan shrimp — while not in-your-face spicy enough — was well done, with lots of shrimp and a sneaky heat.
The ultimate test of a lunch place is: Can they get me out fast, cheap, and smiling? With Gina's, we managed all three — fresh and tasty Chinese food, served in under an hour, all for a final check that barely topped $20. We'd call that a bargain, and we'll be back soon.
Gina's Chinese Kitchen & Sushi Bar
14524 Cantrell Road,
If you're in the mood for raw flesh, try a little something from Gina's big sushi menu. There's a great selection of rolls and nigiri.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. 7 days a week.
Cheap to moderate prices, wine and beer, credit cards accepted.