CABOT -- This town can be a real mess during the afternoon rush hour. We have learned to avoid it then unless it's totally necessary. But a planned visit to the newly opened Asia Express was enough to prod us onward.
Except for a couple of small things, Asia Express offered a relaxed dining experience, good food and a friendly staff that was patient with us as we lobbed them with questions. Although they didn't have many of the items the day we visited, the menu is more than Asian -- it features a number of Greek/Mediterranean dishes as well.
The restaurant in in Southfork Plaza, a strip center on East Second Street. It's a straight shot from the Arkansas 5 exit off U.S. 67/167. Upon entering, diners move into a cafeteria style line on the left that offers hot dishes. A menu board hangs overhead on a wall with a window that looks into the kitchen.
The line offers Meal Deals with entrees that vary each day, $5.99 for one entree and one side, $6.99 for one entree and two sides and $7.99 for two entrees and one side. On the day we visited, the entrees included chicken and mushrooms, sweet and sour chicken and beef and broccoli, plus the Mediterranean options of stuffed squash or a cabbage roll.
There is also a made-to-order section ($6.95 to $7.25); those meals come with fried rice and an egg roll. Choices include cashew chicken, sesame chicken, Mongolian beef, Hunan shrimp, pepper steak, moo goo gai pan and General Tso's chicken. The kids meal option, $4.99, is a junior-size entree, a side and a drink.
The room is well lighted during the day due to walls of glass instead of brick and mortar. The four-seat tables are standard, with metal and vinyl chairs.
Our food arrived quickly, served in foam carry-out containers, which was good because we usually take some home. My family and I were pleasantly surprised at how good everything looked. It was steaming hot and for the most part the portions were large.
One companion chose the made-to-order sesame chicken ($7.25). It's made with chunks of breaded chicken mixed with a variety of vegetables and a brown sauce, liberally topped with sesame seeds. The chicken was crisp and flavorful, the vegetables tender crisp. I was a bit disappointed in the flavor of the fried rice -- more like just rice tossed in soy sauce, nothing special at all.
Address: Southfork Plaza, 2790 Second St., Cabot
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Cuisine: Asian and Mediterranean
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
My mother ordered the shrimp and vegetables ($7.25). The dish was made with large shrimp; the vegetables included broccoli, peppers, baby corn and mushrooms, which seemed to be of the canned variety, in a brown sauce. The shrimp were tender and the vegetables, except for the mushrooms, were also crisp.
My son and I decided to share the cashew chicken ($6.95) and one of the meal deals with two entrees and a side. It was made with chunks of tender chicken, baby corn, onions, carrots and peppers in a brown sauce. It was lightly seasoned, and the numerous cashews, along with the crisp vegetables, made for a substantial mouthful.
The egg roll that came with the made-to-order meals was crisp and the interior was filled with tender cabbage and other vegetables. I was told they make them in house, so bravo! If you order the meal deal, the egg roll is considered a side.
For the meal deal we went with sweet-and-sour chicken and chicken and mushrooms. We realized later we didn't try any beef dishes; that will be for another visit. For a side we chose lo mein noodles. The chicken, which was basically the sesame chicken without the sauce and sesame seeds, was crisp and the meat tender. We had to ask for our sweet-and-sour sauce.
The mushrooms and chicken entree was delicious. Chunks of chicken and sauteed fresh mushrooms were coated with the brown sauce that seemed to be in each dish, although each version had just a little difference, perhaps a little sweetness here and a little more garlic there. The noodles were thinner than many Asian restaurants serve, and they had a few vegetables mixed in. We realized that we got more of the noodles than the entrees, though -- about a half cup of chicken and mushrooms and eight to 10 chunks of chicken to what looked to be almost two cups of noodles. The ratio just seemed way off.
Crab rangoon ($2.99 for an order of six) was a must, so we split two orders and found ourselves in crab rangoon heaven. They are made in-house using very thin wonton wrappers that crisped nicely when fried. The cream-cheese filling was plentiful and melt-in-your-mouth creamy, perhaps the best I've ever had.
We mentioned that Asia Express wasn't serving the Mediterranean menu the day we went, much to our disappointment. There are several side options on the food bar, including hummus, tabbouleh and Jerusalem salad, as well as stuffed squash -- yellow squash in a lightly-seasoned reddish sauce, filled with a meat mixture and cooked until tender.
For dessert they offer a standard almond cookie (40 cents) and baklava ($1.50), which was well worth the price. The top and bottom were crisp and the pistachios-and-honey filling was heavenly. They aren't house-made, but really, who cares?
Weekend on 08/30/2018
Print Headline: Asia Express worth the drive