Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
When it comes to food in Chinese restaurants, the running joke is that no matter how much of the stuff a person eats, hunger is sure to arise within an hour. Fans of this joke obviously have never eaten at West Little Rock's Fu Lin, which is serving up some of the tastiest Chinese in the city, doing it for cheap and presenting the sort of solid, quality cuisine that can keep us full for hours.
Where to begin? Well, all the appetizers are pretty fantastic, so we decided to get them all at once by ordering the Pu Pu Tray ($8.95), a delightful sampler that includes two each of egg rolls, crab rangoon, beef and chicken cho cho, and tempura chicken. The tray also came out sporting a small charcoal-fired brazier that spit and sputtered at us during our first course; this was a little disconcerting, and made reaching across the table for the sweet and sour more than a little dangerous.
As for the actual appetizers, they were delicious. The egg rolls and crab rangoon were both crisp and fresh from the fryer. There was nothing out of the ordinary about either item: The rangoons were stuffed with the vaguely crab-scented cream cheese we've come to expect, while the egg rolls were full of shredded cabbage, carrots and pork. Still, we've had both items in soggy, depressing forms so many times that these light, crunchy versions hit the spot.
The two cho cho items (commonly referred to as "stick meat") were also tasty. The chicken was seared nicely on the grill, tender and moist. The beef wasn't quite as good, but the sweet and spicy sauce that drenched everything left us happy. The tempura-battered sweet-and-sour chicken was also quite good — so good in fact that we wished we had ordered more than just the two pieces that came with the sampler. All in all, this was one of the best appetizer samplers we've ordered, and for two people it makes a wonderful start to the meal.
We continued on with a couple of bowls of soup. The egg drop ($2) was rich and mild, with a nice texture. The hot and sour ($2) didn't fare quite as well; although it was tasty enough, we prefer it more on the hot side than the sour — this was exactly the opposite. Still, for diners who don't enjoy spicy foods as we do, this soup would be a great choice.
When it came time for entrees, we were equally pleased. First up was the General Tso's Chicken ($8.50), and although we know that crispy-fried bites of chicken swimming in a sweet, spicy neon orange sauce probably isn't the healthiest thing we could order, we were impressed with how the breading held up to the sauce. A side order of fried rice ($2.75) was tasty enough, although there really wasn't much to the dish beyond rice and a few scattered vegetables. As a vessel to soak up the sauce from the General Tso's chicken, though, it did its job quite well.
Our last entree, the Kung Pao Chicken ($7), was probably the weakest part of the meal. Unlike the General Tso's, the chicken here was diced small and lacked much flavor. Large chunks of green bell pepper overwhelmed the rest of the dish, and while the crunchy water chestnuts did a good job holding in the flavor of the sauce, we just couldn't get past the dominating flavor of the peppers. An order of steamed rice on the side was light, fluffy and sticky just like we like it.
Given the meal we had at Fu Lin, we've decided to place the restaurant on our regular rotation of "cheap eats" joints. Several other menu items caught our eye, including a Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, Orange Beef with Broccoli and a tasty-sounding Sesame Beef. The kitchen is quick and efficient, and everything we were served obviously was cooked fresh to order. It's a nice change from some versions of these dishes we've had that waste away in pans on a steam table, and given the friendly service, there's no reason not to make Fu Lin your next stop for Chinese.
Fu Lin is a steal at lunch, with combination platters starting at just under $5. Each combination comes with an entree, egg roll and choice of steamed or fried rice — a filling and delicious meal for just a few bucks.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted.