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May 21, 2007 09:50 AM

Asia Cafe Menu Item Comparison

I've had the following with my work lunch crew:
Spicy Fish and Spicy Beef
Roast Duck/Szechuan Duck
Dumplings (Zhong, regular, fried)
Wonton soup/spicy wonton
Spicy beef noodle soup
Pork and mustard green soup
Singapore noodle
Twice cooked pork
Kung Pao Chicken
Salt and pepper pork-stuffed eggplant
Bitter melon with beef
Salt and pepper pork chop
Salt and pepper shrimp
Spicy Green Beans
Mysterious shrimp dish that wasn't on the menu - excellent, but I don' t know how to order

If anyone hasn't had those and wants info, just ask. I will say that I don't like bitter melon, the salt and pepper shrimp were disappointing (explained previously), and the Kunp Pao chicken was very bland and uninteresting. The salt and pepper pork chop was good, but basically bones with a little mean and quite a bit of fat. They were like prok cracklings with bones. I still liked them. I've loved everything else. I think that I'm forgetting some dishes as well.

Things that I want to order but with a new crew cause I can't with a conservative work crew:
Fish Filet with Sour Mustard
Corn with bell pepper
Fried pork with green chile
Periwinkle Meat (escargot) with green chive or pther
Seaweed, tofu, and salted egg soup
Mango Jumbo Shrimp
Crispy Fish
Hot and spicy rabbit
Sweet and sour lotus root
Shredded potato with bell pepper
Shredded pork with flower chive
And, yes, DON PO Pork Elbow
Taiwanese Stir-Fried Rice Noodle
General Tso's chicken - (I predict disappointment, but I have an urge to see what they do with this dish).

Or anything else off menu. What does

Has anyone had any of these dishes, and can you comment? What does JIAO MA and DON PO mean?

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  1. Nice listing. Sadly, I haven't tried any of the dishes you want to know about because I too usually have conservative people with me. Today for lunch I almost got the Fried pork with green chile but went to the old standby of twice cooked pork. We also had the singapore noodles for the first time today and were quite impressed at the spicy level of curry.

    I've settled into a routine at Asia Cafe that I normally don't do at restaurants. The dishes I get most frequently are:

    Ma Po Tofu (almost every time)
    Spicy fish fillet (if we don't get tofo)
    Stir fried Pea Leaves (the most leaves of their veggies)
    Stir fried water spinach (a good backup if out of pea leaves)
    Spicy wonton Wonton soup--both good as appetizers.
    Twice Cooked pork -- oh so fatty
    Eggplant with garlic sauce (a bit too sweet)
    Spicy rice jelly -- if you just want the numbing
    Pork with dry bean curd -- surprisingly tasty
    Salt/Pepper eggplant with pork
    BBQ pork -- used to be a special but haven't seen it lately. not quite Din Ho good.
    Green beans -- fabulous
    Stir fried a choy -- if you want a more fibery texture than the pea leaves
    singapore noodles -- a new favorite for their heat
    mustard green with pork noodle soup -- surprisingly good
    Noodle with ground pork sauce -- simple but very tasty

    Other dishes that we've done once or twice but aren't impressed by:

    Spicy honey comb (tripe)
    Mango chicken -- bland
    Pork with garlic sauce -- too sweet
    Salt and pepper squid/shrimp (I like T&S better)
    Chicken Delight (didn't like the bones )
    Stir friend chicken with hot chile (boring)
    Zhong dumplings (I've done them 3-4 times and find them dry and boring each time not sure what the fuss is about)
    Crispy/Braised tofu (boring)
    Vegetables Delight (boring but with nice brocoli)
    salt & pepper pork chop (too many bones)

    9 Replies
    1. re: Carter B.

      Sounds like you and I are in the same boat. I can't push this crew any harder than I already have! I only got twice cooked pork once, as they are used to the typical "once cooked" twice cooked pork.

      Yes, the singapore noodles are nicely hot and tossed with nice and fresh and crunchy julienned veggies. That's becoming a standard. With a touch of soy sauce and a spoon of chiles in oil, the mustard green and pork noodle soup is right on target. I also agree on the Zhong dumplings...usually just a big ball of pork inside the dumpling.

      I haven't had the noodles with ground pork sauce - since the menu is not descriptive I couldn't imagine it well enough to commit. Are there any vegetables or anything, or is it simply ground pork with noodles?

      I also didn't finish a sentence before - I see asian regualr with dishes that I don't see on the menu. Once, I saw a nice looking shrimp dish. I asked what it was and found out that it wasn't on the menu. So I ordered it and it was excellent (sadly, I can't remember the details and don't know the name of the dish). If anyone has any advice on what to ask for off menu, I'm all ears.

      1. re: rudeboy

        The noodles with ground pork were simple spaghetti style noodles with a very mildly spicy pork that was somewhere in between ground and shredded. That's it. Reminded me of a dish I'd more likely have in Italy than China.

        We saw a really good dish there one Saturday around lunch that looked like special dumplings as they came in steamer baskets as well as the soy milk and fried bread. We saw them after we ordered and though we've been back a few times on Saturdays since have yet to see them again. We tried to ask for them but apparently didn't do an adequate job explaining what we wanted.

      2. re: Carter B.

        We just tried three new dishes (to us) for lunch and I got a lead on another dish that looks good that I haven't heard mentioned on this board.

        The best we had was pork with chives which I believe others have loved but we were so/so on. I like the pork with dry bean curd a bit better though both are similar--just not enough non-porky flavor from the chives.

        Two dishes we liked even less were the shredded potato with bell pepper which was as bland as it sounds. Starchy potatoes and a few thin strips of bell pepper. We also tried the JIAO MA chicken which is similar to the Chicken Delight in that it's a cold, hacked chicken dish. But instead of the red sauce, it's more peppery and less greasy. It has the numb of the Sichuan pepper plus a taste that feels more like American black pepper. I just don't like the cold, boney chicken dishes but those that like the Chicken Delight might be intrigued by it. I'd probably enjoy this JIAO MA sauce on the squid.

        At the table next to us, a lady had this mound of green items with some red chilis mixed in. From a distance it looked like English peas but when I went closer it looked more like chopped scallion ends. I asked the lady and she said it was pickled long beans and it's on the untranslated whiteboard third item from the top--it appeared to be $11 for what looks like a veggie dish so I hope she might be wrong on the placement. She offered me a taste but I figured that was a bit much but we'll try and get it next time.

        Finally, as today's meal was a disappointment, I remembered they have those $.50 sesame balls by the register when you walk in the door. rNot quite a $.50 tam's creampuff but it'll still warm and tasty.

        1. re: Carter B.

          Carter - you should've taken that longbean taste! She didn't mind, I'm sure....

          1. re: Carter B.

            were the beans chopped into 1/4 inch (or so) pieces? And any trace of ground pork? in any case, the pickled bean Sichuan style is quite tasty...i like the versions with pork....yummy. have to assume at 11 peppercorns a pop, there should be meat!!!!
            go for it!


            1. re: sambamaster

              Yeah, there were quite small chopped. Not sure about the ground pork, it wasn't obvious if it was there. I may be there for lunch today and if so I'll try and order it.

              1. re: Carter B.

                I think you will love the dish....assuming it is what i think it is...have had it in a few restaurants....even the Sichuan Cuisine in Houston has it.
                Nice to hear AC has added it to the menu.

                Seems that they continue evolving and expanding the menu....great news...except that I live 560 miles away now!!!

                1. re: sambamaster

                  Well I tried to order it today for lunch but they said it wasn't ready yet (11:30). I had the board wrong--it's the vertical board to the left of the register and the dish the 3rd one down (fairly long name in chinese) and is a much more reasonable $7.50. As I was stumbling describing it she said something about the pickled beans with pork so I assume it does have pork.

                  I did do the Combination Hot Pot (item 241?) and was impressed at its size (it's definitely two person) and fiery flavor--definitely the hottest dish I've had there. There were probably 20 small red peppers in addition to the peppercorn. The mix of meats was awesome: spicy fish fillet, water boiled beef, shrimp, squid and some other random seafood bits. Recommended if you like the spicy.

                  Yeah, bummer you've moved away sambamaster, I still profoundly thank you for turning me on to this dish.

          2. re: Carter B.

            I just wanted everyone to know that Asia Cafe added all of the missing menu items to the website menu!

          3. I've only had a few of the items on your "want to" list, but I hope this helps.

            Periwinkle home style - The sauce was a mild, but tasty white sauce which was fresh and tangy. But the meat was very small and very rubbery and chewy. I don't know enough to know if they were over cooked, old or that's the way they should be, but I know they weren't like any escargot I've had and weren't to my taste.

            Crispy fish - this is excellent. Fresh and perfectly cooked, the meat was moist and flavorful. The batter was nicely seasoned, golden brown and just enough without being too think. And, it looks really cool when it plated.

            Hot and spicy rabbit. It's been a while, so I might not have this right. But what I remember is the meat was not over cooked - just at a medium and the rabbit's flavor was nice with the sauce. I've never gotten it again, and I can only think that it might be because it was tedious to eat. I should try it again, maybe it just fell off the radar.

            Pork Elbow - another excellent dish. It was like a giant pot roast. I got it to go and they brought it out in an aluminum tray that had to be 12 X 18 inches. The meat was most like a shank and was fall off the bone tender. The vegetables that are slow cooked with the meat included carrot, onions, bok choy, and ginger. The broth, and there was a lot of it, was also excellent (very rich, like beef broth). It was so good a made a few meals out of the broth alone or with the vegetables as a soup. The borth and consequently the meat had an interesting spice that was maybe five spice, cinniman, or both. It added a layer of flavor that was unique and tasty. Definately worth getting, but either order it with a group or know it will feed you for days.

            I'd be curious if anyone has ordered off what they call their "pre order" menu on the website and how that worked out. It looks like a three course meal for $15 and it is different everyday. You call up and order for the day you want and it is ready for you to pick up I guess

            5 Replies
            1. re: rollledspleen

              We took a chance and ordered from their "pre order" menu yesterday for a dinner today. It was pretty simple--we looked at the menu online and liked what today's dishes were and put in an order. The person on the phone took down our phone number and name and told us that pickup began at 5:30pm and to bring $15 in cash. We went down today and the order was sitting there ready for us. We paid and went home to try the dishes! We had baby bok choy, chicken with cashew nuts and sweet and sour pork. They gave us plenty of rice and the baby bok choy was excellent with a lot of garlic. The chunks of chicken were ok, in an oyster sauce with vegetables and cashews sprinkled on top. The sweet and sour pork chops were so good--bones included so you kind of gnaw around them :o). A bit fatty but really tasty. We had a pretty good experience, it's a great price, very convenient and it gets us out of our rut and trying other dishes. We'll definitely be doing this at least once a week!

              1. re: snowymt

                You know, I hadn't even considered doing the dinner take out thing. Maybe I will. Luckily, my wife will eat just about anything, so I can order just about anything.

                Went to lunch with the work crew the other day. I got there after everyone else, so they ordered. In deference to me, one of the dishes that they ordered was the hot and spicy rabbit. There were six of us. Another dish was the General Tso's chicken.

                My curiosity was satisfied. The General Tso's tasted like a poor strip mall version of this dish. At some places, I actually like a bite or two of GTso's off of someone else's plate. Don't even bother ordering it here. Curious that they even have it on the menu, as it doesn't exactly seem like they throw the doors open for non chinese.

                Hot and spicy rabbit: this dish is served cold. The rabbit consists of little chunks of bone-in rabbit that you have to gnaw around. The rabbit itself was mostly tender, but it did seem to have a 'brine" flavor to it, like it was packed up like a ham for transport. It came in a chili oil sauce that was heavy in szechuan pepper. There were bits of black bean floating around in it and some sort of heavier red sauce that floated to the bottom of the chili oil. Scallions and cilantro, I think, were on top. I thought that it was very interesting. Two others in our group also ate it, and two more tried it and got grossed out. One guy (funny guy) after trying said that it tasted like "fur" and all he could think about was Bugs Bunny. I think that grossed another girl out, so she couldn't eat it after the first bite. The sixth would even try it, although she is Vietnamese American.

                Would I get it again? Proabably not anytime soon. I did like the rabbit meat and the sauce quite a bit, but I guess I'm just not fond of the cold dishes with meat. If I were at home, I would have warmed it up. Maybe I can get it to go, but the sauce is complicated enough and I'm not sure how well it would travel and reheat.

                1. re: snowymt

                  Thanks for the feedback on the pre order menu. I'm going to give it a try as well. I like the idea of it being a way to try new things. Thanks

                  1. re: snowymt

                    How were the meals packed and would they keep a day or two? I was thinking about trying their to go but would be eating on them for a few days.

                    1. re: chucklesmcfarland

                      The food came in these round aluminum take out containers with the clear lids on top. We had it for dinner two nights in a row. I think they'd definitely keep for a day or two and if you're extra worried you could always transfer them to more air tight containers.

                2. Our favorites at Asia Market are:

                  Fried fish with sweet and sour sauce (nice golden fried fish slices, the sauce is always great and they usually put an assortment of vegetables in it)
                  Pork with dried bean curd (heavy on the garlic, nice strips of pork and beancurd)
                  Stir fried green beans (these are excellent--they have lots of onion and a black preserved vegetable? that is salty)
                  Baby bok choy (a nice fresh vegetable dish)

                  We've also tried the Singapore noodles and the Taiwanese noodles and prefer the later. The Singapore ones were really spicy and oddly the Taiwanese version reminds me of what we get in Singapore instead.

                  The dumplings were pretty good but might be a bit doughy for some.

                  We've tried the Mango Jumbo shrimp and were disappointed. It was more of a spicy chilli sauce and that didn't go well with the mango.

                  I saw the General Tso's chicken dish too and am curious to try it out. We also want to try the crispy fish but every time they tell us it's not available!

                  I'm interested to hear about the preordered dinners too.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: snowymt

                    Finally made it to Asia Cafe. Had run right out the door upon seeing Sambamaster's wonderful ode of a post the first time but on that Sunday early evening I got scared of the crowds and everything. Tonight we had the Zhong dumplings, doughy and spicy delicious comfort food. The prevalence of oil was kind of weird and would put most of my friends off I'm afraid, but I loved them. Sweet and sour pork and garlic eggplant were huge and delicious. Good small egg rolls. Even the rice was better--small grained, gooey and tasty. Found a pack of really good almond cookies (a favorite) in the grocery. Two big meals for 22.00 just fantastic. Thanks everybody. Without the Chowhounds lots of dining adventures would be lost.

                    1. re: BTAustin

                      Today I stopped into the Cafe and ordered an item I've been curious about for a long time and haven't seen any other references to on the Austin board: Seafood Combination in Clay Pot (#241 on the menu). A couple of months ago I'd seen two guys at a nearby table delving away at it and it looked pretty good, so I asked one of them what it was and received my answer (ya gotta ask if ya wanna know). Unfortunately, I didn't have a dining companion with whom to share this enormous Sichuan-style bowl o'red (my order didn't actually come in a clay pot, but a big hard plastic bowl perhaps a foot in diameter), which is easily enough to feed two and maybe three. (When I took the Seafood Combination in Big Plastic Bowl to my table, two young ladies at the next table over started laughing and giggling uncontrollably; since they were speaking Chinese I didn't know if they were laughing at my being served such a huge entree that I presumably didn't expect, or about something else entirely.)

                      What's in it? A base of fiery ma-la sauce with plenty of Sichuan chiles. Shrimp, scallops, artfully sliced squid. Two or three kinds of unidentified soft-fleshed fish (hake? halibut? catfish?). Topped with a bit of cilantro for color contrast and flavor. Served with a standard single-serving bowl of rice alongside. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but I'd definitely recommend it in a group setting, especially, of course, for fans of Sichuan seafood dishes. Price: 12 bucks.

                      (Of course, I didn't finish it. I had had the foresight to bring along an 8-cup [64 ounce] plastic container for leftovers, which was EXACTLY the size I needed!)

                      1. re: luggage512

                        I am sorry to hear your bad experience at the Cafe. I am sure there must be some misunderstandings.
                        First, I don't think you were laughed becasue of the size of your order. It may surprise you, but believe me, that seafood bowl is not atypical, in fact, it is supposed to be. I remember when I first introduced a bowl of noodle (Chinese style) to my husband, he thought it was a joke, it is unbelievable large. So... I understand why you think in that way.
                        Second, I am guessing that it must be a bad translation. I don't think that that dish should be called clay pot. It sounds like a typical kind of Sichuan dishes (but I don't know what is the official translation for that either). They always come in a big bowl (of course, plastic is not the first choice) and a lot of red pepper and hot sauce on top. Most popular ones are beef and clear-water fish. "clay pot" dishes come in a clay pot indeed. It is usually a slow-cooking for chichen, sausage, dry pork, tofu, sometimes for eggplan+dry fish. They are delicious. The idea of clay pot instead of typical cooking pot which is metal is that clay absorb heat slowly so that the food in it will be cooked longer then the flavors will be well absorbed. Sometime, a bed of rice is put on the bottom. When it is done, the rice has absorbed all the oil and flavors from the meat on the top. Clay pot is a type of dish which I have not seen any one similar in the countries other than China and south asia.
                        Speaking of seafood, Sichuan style is not my best choice. Cantonese food has the best seafood. They tend to use less spice and bring out the food its own flavor. I like it. However I have not found any real Cantonese food here other than dim sum.
                        I have been asia cafe once after I read about it on this site. (Thanks to all). I find there are some mix between Chinese and American style Chinese food in the menu. Overall they have pretty good Chinese food. Probably they are the best in town.

                        1. re: yushi

                          Thanks for your comments. I wouldn't really call it a bad experience, just something I was curious about! Asia Cafe does have items on the menu called Hot Pot Fish and Hot Pot Mix, which I imagine are similar. I haven't tried those, however. I knew that it was a big bowl. (Vietnamese pho comes in similar sized bowls.)

                          By the way, when I left Asia Market I bought a couple of small packets of dried vermicelli to have with the leftovers later on.

                  2. i've had the mango jumbo shrimp and found it lacking. the sauce was thick and sweet, in a cloying kind of way. just not my thing...

                    however, i get the shredded pork with flower chive every time i go and love it! it's pretty consistently good, and the guests i've taken to asian cafe picked it as their favorite dish. i highly recommend it.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: lycheetea

                      Ahhhh! The table behind us today had the shredded pork with flower chive. It looked so good we had to ask them what it was. Next time I will try that for sure. It will be hard to break from the spicy fish (I'm so in love), but I'm going to have to risk it!

                      1. re: foodiegal71

                        yes, that is a great dish... don't forget the pork with dried bean curd also....

                        just had some stuff at Grand Sichuan in NYC (st. mark's place) what i had was only a notch about Asia Cafe, maybe 1.5 notches. but their menu offers far more variety and that sets them my opinon...and yes, the flavors are a bit deeper,but Austin is lucky to have Asia Cafe, especially considering the prices.

                        1. re: sambamaster

                          Samba - I am planning a trip to the northeast, including NYC, and I will definitely plan on going to Grand Sichuan (as well as Khyber Pass for Afghan). Thanks for the info.

                          Regarding Asia Cafe, there have been several developments:
                          1) I have tried the spicy rabbit (previously described), the General Tso's (previously described), the pork with flower chive (described well by others), the Taiwanese stir fry Noodle (I prefer the Singapore Noodle owing to it's spicyness and twang), and the "corn with bell pepper." The corn with bell pepper is weird. I asked the guy if it was good, when I ordered it, and he said that it was "okay." Imagine taking corn kernels and frying them in oil and salt, until they are crispy but chewey....a little carmelized. At first, I was put off (there were no bell peppers, only a few sliced jalapenos). However, As I continued to eat the corn, mixed with rice and the shredded pork with flower chive, I began to understand. Toward the end, I couldn't get enough of that salty, corn, carmelized flavor. It's almost like popcorn that didn't pop. The funny thing is that we sat by the tea stand and even Asian people were even gawking at our plate of fried corn. Evidently, it is a nonstandard item, as we got all of our other food a full five minutes prior to getting that plate.

                          2) I noticed that two, newer to my workplace, Asian co-workers were eating at Aais Cafe at the same time. Later that day, I asked one of them if they ate there often. His reply was "every day." I asked "every day that you eat out, or every day?" He said "every day.' Then he volunteered that the cook is from his hometown in Southwestern China. He told me that the English menu is the same as the Chinese, and there isn't anything that we are missing. That is incongruent with my previous shrimp-dish experience, but maybe, on the whole, we (whiteys...assuming most of us are non chinese) aren't missing anything. I plan to explore this opportunity further and report.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            Grand Sichuan on St. Mark's Place is the best Manhattan location these days, from what I can tell. If you have time, venture out to Flushing (last stop on the #7 train) and hit "Little Pepper" for some really good chow. this is where the "new" Chinatown is in the NYC area... Zabb City in the E. Village has some great Issan Thai dishes.

                            Now, regarding Asia Cafe....good to hear about the corn dish, i've wondered about that myself. sounds yummy. mix it with some pork elbow, and you would most likely reach nirvana! My mom's Southern cooking, sichuan style!
                            I still think there are items on those marker boards that are not on the English menu, and have pressed the folks on occasion to find some goodies there, though many have been incorporated into the main menu, like "ants climb a tree" --- i think there is another pork dish similar to the one with garlic chives...maybe "yellow" chives or some other variant, I can't recall. the corn dish was once only on the marker boards. there was a grilled prawn dish on the marker board that i don't think is on the menu...they called it "shrimp stick" , long prawns grilled on wooden skewers.... has anyone had this?
                            and of course, the sat. morning menu is totally different...all in Chinese last time i was there...somewhere we posted a translation of most of those items...

                            1. re: sambamaster

                              I'm interested to hear more about their Saturday morning menu! How does it differ? Do they offer dim sum or breakfast foods?

                    2. Some staple dishes that I tend to order a lot:

                      Mango Chicken - this is my wife's favorite, and it is a great choice if you're with a bunch of conservative eaters
                      Ants Climbing Up a Tree - a little oily at times (chili oil), but always delicious
                      Chicken Delight - great flavor
                      Eggplant with garlic sauce - a.k.a "Yu Hsiang Eggplant", a little greasy but delicious

                      They also sometimes have pig kidneys stir fried with wood-ear fungus and assorted vegetables. They do this *perfectly*, which in my book means it tastes just like my mom used to make it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pwang

                        Thanks, would I know when they have the kidneys? Would it be a board menu item?

                        1. re: rudeboy

                          Possibly, but I talked with the cashier lady about it a couple of days ago, and she indicated that they only have the dish available when local butchers decide to drop some off. And even then, they only have enough to make half a dozen dishes of it. So I guess I just really got lucky the last time I ordered it. Of course, from now on, every time I go in I'll ask if they have it. :)