Tucson Weekly Review, April 19, 2012 by Rita Connelly @Tucsonweekly.com
The Asian eats at this little place are delicious and inexpensive
In the last few months, Asian restaurants have been opening all over town. That could be worrisome, because quantity does not always equate to quality. But in the case of Thai China Bistro, there’s no reason to be concerned: We found the food there to be quite tasty and judging by the packed little dining room, other people must feel the same way. Thai China Bistro is located in the spot previously occupied by barbecue joint Buck and Lil’s. The space hasn’t changed much, except for a few Asian-inspired decorations. This is fast-casual dining, after all, so we’re not looking for anything fancy.
As the name indicates, the menu offers both Thai and Chinese dishes, with a bit of sushi and some Korean items thrown in for good measure. We sampled a little of everything: the pad Thai with shrimp ($7.99), which is also available with beef, chicken, pork or tofu ($5.99/combo $7.99); Korean short ribs ($6.99); cashew chicken ($5.99); and the Thai China special roll ($8.99), from the sushi menu, for entrées. For appetizers, we tried the squid salad ($6.99), Chiang Mai shrimp ($5.99) and both the Thai egg roll ($1.59 for one) and the Chinese egg roll ($2.59 for three). For dessert, we had to try the fried Oreos ($3.99). We also ordered three different boba drinks—Thai coffee, pineapple and passion fruit ($2.59 plus 50 cents for tapioca). The Chiang Mai consisted of five small shrimp that had been wrapped in Asian noodles and were then deep-fried to a crunchy goodness; it was a totally different way to enjoy fried shrimp. The outside was ultra-crispy, while inside, they were sweet and tender. They were served with a sweet pinkish sauce.
Thai China also does squid salad differently: Hot-off-the-grill squid is chopped and served atop a bed of mixed greens and vegetables, and tossed with a lovely soy-based salad dressing that balances sweet and salty. I truly enjoyed this dish; it was different and totally unexpected. The Thai egg roll was a bit greasy, but full of shredded vegetables and what looked like cellophane noodles. The sauce here was similar to that served with the Chiang Mai shrimp, but with peanuts tossed in. We ordered two, but one would’ve been big enough to share, especially with all of the other food we ordered. The Chinese egg rolls were decidedly different than the Thai rolls in many ways. The three small rolls were barely bigger than your finger. The wrap was crackly crisp and rolled tightly around the soft, almost-mushy filling. I preferred the Thai roll, because the flavors were more pronounced, especially the filling. The pad Thai was delicious. Orangey in tone, and tangy with a passel of tender shrimp, this dish worked. The peanuts came on the side, which is wise, given the prevalence of peanut allergies. The six tender Korean short ribs came with a dark, sweet-and-savory sauce. They were messy to eat, but worth it. A bit of pickled cabbage and carrots (not really kimchi, because there was no heat) added another layer of flavor and texture to an already-tasty dish. White rice was served on the side. Plenty of white rice also came with the cashew chicken. The dish held all the expected stuff: bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sprouts, peas, chicken, cashews, etc., and the sauce was mellow. Of all the dishes we sampled, this was my least favorite—yet I would order it again, but only after any one of the Thai plates. The special roll was filled with fresh salmon, imitation crab, fried shrimp, cu- cumbers, cream cheese, avocado and daikon. It was topped with a swirl of mayonnaise. Crunchy and creamy in every bite, with a bunch of flavors that all came together nicely, this was a nice bit of house sushi.
As for those fried Oreos ... while clever in concept, this dish was, in a word, weird. Call me a purist, but I guess I like my Oreos standing alone. All three of the boba drinks we tried were good, with the Thai coffee winning out. The service was friendly, prompt and knowledgeable. We couldn’t have asked for more. Thai China is a great addition to the local Asian-food scene. If the owners can keep up the great food and service, Thai China will head toward the top of the list when it comes to fast-casual Asian dining.