Lily’s China Bistro initially appeared to be an inexpensive Chinese take-away of the “faded photo menu on the wall, instant regret after eating” variety. However, signage indicating the presence of housemade noodles caught my attention, and once inside, I realized the food may be affordable, but the place ain’t cheap.
Tables are set with forks, but I like to eat small bites and noodles with chopsticks. The staff seemed a bit bemused but cheerfully honored my request. Instead of food portraits, the room is decorated with painted Chinese landscapes, paper lanterns and similar adornments. They’ve done a nice job elevating the building from its recognizable fast-food past.
My group and I ordered a variety of lunch specials, available with a choice of hot and sour or egg flower soup, a vegetable egg roll, Chinese salad, steamed or fried rice, entree and sugar chips. Brown rice or vegetable chow mein can be substituted for an additional 75 cents. Pots of green tea were shared ($1), which is only notable because it actually had a deep color and more flavor than the hot water usually served in such places.
The service was very quick and efficient. Within moments of ordering, we had cups of hot, delicious soup, then barely enough time to finish them before our plates arrived. It’s no wonder the drive-thru window is still in action. This kitchen is cranking out fresh food in record time.
The egg roll was crispy and not greasy, served with a small dollop of dipping sauce. Fried rice was literally just that—white rice tossed in a wok with some soy sauce and oil, not much flavor on its own, but OK to sop up sauce from the entree. The chow mein was excellent, with crispy bits of veg and absolutely delicious housemade noodles. The salad was a bit of shredded cabbage in mildly salty dressing, sort of a briny slaw. I enjoyed it. Sugar chips were fried, sweetened pieces of wonton wrapper, which weren’t bad but didn’t add a lot to the meal.
As for entrees, the meat and veggies were fine in the General’s chicken ($7.45), but it was quite sweet, lacking any heat despite the dried pepper pods. Perhaps ordering “extra spicy” would help. Similarly, the kung pao chicken ($7.25) lacked the punch I expect from this Szechuan classic. Lemon shrimp ($7.89) was tart and sweet, though surprisingly less so than the General’s sauce. The deep-fried batter on the shrimp held some crunch despite the deluge of goo. Even better was snow pea shrimp ($8.99), with a delicate ginger sauce that allowed the carrot, water chestnut, bamboo shoot and stir-fried shrimp to shine. Orders of Szechuan beef ($7.45) and twice-cooked barbecue pork ($7.25) finally brought some spicy kick. The beef was tender and the veggies al dente, but the pork was a bit dry. The sauce on the pork dish was best of the bunch.
The lone hold-out from lunch specials was a broccoli chicken noodle bowl ($6.50), featuring a pile of housemade lo mein noodles tossed in something savory, topped with fresh stir fry from a variety of options. Very simple, very delicious, and it appeared to be the take-out window’s most popular item. I will definitely be driving thru for some of those fantastic noodles in the near future.