I have a weakness for pad Thai.
There’s something about noodles coated in a tangy tamarind sauce that gives me the warm and fuzzies. When I heard there was a new Asian fusion eatery just down the street from my house, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on peanut-sprinkled noodles.
I was expecting a medley of Japanese, Thai and Chinese; to my surprise, Little Asia Bistro was classified as an Indian restaurant on Yelp. I dug deeper and found co-owner Norah Hsiung was born in India but raised by parents of Indian and Chinese descent. Her menu is a reflection of her and her husband’s favorite dishes from India, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam (and the Google ratings are damn near perfect).
Bring it, sister.
The more I skimmed, the more I realized that it wasn’t the pad thai everyone was about; it was the drunken noodles. That being said, I can’t speak from experience about the pad thai, but I will say if it’s anything like the rest of the spectacular dishes I sampled, Wilmington is in very good hands.
Though Little Asia has a quaint dining room, the inside of the bistro screams take-out. They already have accounts linked to several local delivery services (grab a GrubHub coupon for Little Asia at the register), and the to-go service I received was as speedy as it was friendly.
Also it’s in a strip mall. The best places usually are.
I often veer toward veggie spring rolls for a starter since they’re a good tell-tale of how fresh the food is. Once again, however, the online reviews led me in a different direction. It appeared the crab rangoons were the way to kick off a meal here.
Fine. Twist my arm. I’ll have fried cream cheese.
I’ve tasted crispy crab wontons at many-a-restaurant and the norm is for them to be greasy and bland. Little Asia Bistro’s couldn’t have been more on the opposite end of the spectrum. The smooth, velvety filling was distinctively seasoned and the generously sized, puffy wonton was crispy and fresh.
The standard side sauce from an American-Chinese spot is typically thick with no other particular flavors than high fructose corn syrup. Not saying I don’t still triple dip when that’s my only option, but Little Asia’s dipper was a thin, fruity mixture of sweet, sour and salty flavors, studded with chili flakes. Whether it was homemade or came from a commercial-size jug, I don’t really care. I just appreciated it was delicious, fresh, and a step above what I was expecting.
Also, there are six to an order—I ate three the first night and three for breakfast. That’s right: I reheated fried food and it was practically just as good the second time around. It was a cream cheese miracle.
Little Asia’s menu was so complex and thoughtful, it was hard to narrow down which items I would test run for the review. The array spanned from noodle bowls to fried rice to butter chicken. A super flavorful broth isn’t the easiest thing to nail, so I suspected a noodle bowl would give me a good idea of how adept the kitchen really was.
The answer? Very.
I noticed a large variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes, so I went for the miso tofu noodle bowl. How a chef handles vegetables is extremely revealing. For anyone not in the know, when it comes to miso (I totally just rapped), the paste is produced via fermented soybeans and explodes with umami flavor. Little Asia’s miso was salty, earthy and loaded with tender bok choy, seaweed, meaty mushrooms and silky tofu. Hearty cooked udon noodles came alongside—a crucial move to make sure they don’t get overcooked.
Although I’m still undoubtedly partial to Pad Thai, the Drunken noodles from Little Asia were exceptional. First and foremost, I had zero beef with the beef. Beef in sub-par noodle dishes can be chewy and tasteless. Here, the thinly sliced beef was succulent and, thanks to what looked like a solid sear, actually had texture. If you’re not a fan of bell peppers, Drunken noodles might not be your bag, baby. The sweet, grassy notes of the veggie play a mega part in the overall flavor (and match the herbal notes of the basil sauce). If you don’t mind them, you’ll enjoy how they balance flat noodles with their crunch. Their tender-crisp texture is another example of Little Asia’s kitchen knowing what they’re doing.
For my Indian course, I couldn’t pass up classic chicken tikka masala—and it didn’t disappoint. The chunks of chicken swimming in the silky, orange-hued sauce were generous and juicy, and the sauce was pungent, aromatic, and orangey. I would have swiped up every last drop with a warm handful of naan, but the fluffy white rice did the trick to soak in all the goodness. Also, overall, the prices were incomparable for the quality of the food.
Little Asia Bistro’s authenticity and flavors? Not so little, after all.