I was pretty bummed to see Dairy Queen leave its longtime spot on South 48th Street in College View. It wasn't the greatest Dairy Queen you'd ever come across, but it was a convenient place for me to get my peanut butter cup Blizzard fix. Nevertheless, change happens. And before I knew it, a new restaurant had moved in.
Mr. Lee's Chinese Restaurant is small. Very small. Presumably that means they'll be focusing on their carryout business. Seating is limited to five booths along the outside wall, plus two chairs near the counter where you can sit to wait for your to-go order. I encourage them to consider some sort of high-top table and stools in the center of the dining area. That may give them a small boost in capacity. The counter at which you order will look familiar to you if you ever ate at Dairy Queen. There is a nicely organized and legible menu board high on the back wall.
The menu is mostly what you would expect for fast food Chinese in Lincoln, with a few notable exceptions. There are the usual fried rice, beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp dishes, of course. Favorites like Tso's chicken, szechuan beef, and sweet & sour pork are all there. Lunch portions start at $5.49, while dinner portions are in the $7.49-$7.99 range. Pretty standard, in other words. Also on the menu are lo mein, chow mein, and egg foo young options. There's also the notable addition of jumbon soup ($8.25). More on that in a moment. No doubt owing in part to its Seventh Day Adventist neighbors, Mr. Lee's makes clear that tofu can be substituted into any dish, or the meat can simply be left out.
There are no surprises with service at Mr. Lee's. You order at the counter and when your food is ready they call your name. Simple enough. The young lady behind the counter on the night we visited was very friendly, but you could tell she and the restaurant were both new. She had to go to the back to ask about the ingredients in a couple dishes; one presumes she'll pick up on that over time so she will be able to respond to customer inquiries with more confidence.
The Missus was intrigued by the jumbon soup so she decided to try something new. It turned out to be a large bowl of noodles, beef, shrimp, and all kinds of veggies. The broth was ... I don't even know how to describe it. It was a dark broth with a touch of spice and flavors my taste buds weren't particularly familiar with. I need to try it myself sometime so that I can work on figuring it out. Bring your appetite; there's more than enough for a single meal in that bowl. The Missus accompanied her soup -- unnecessarily, as it turned out -- with a chicken egg roll. It was lightly fried, with large pieces of chicken inside, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. She gave it two thumbs up.
I went the more traditional route with the lunch portion of szechuan shrimp. The entree featured medium-sized shrimp, vegetables, and dried chile pods in a moderately spicy brown sauce. Alongside it was a pyramid of steamed rice and one very tasty crab rangoon. I wasn't knocked off my feet by the dish, but it was decent. The style of the dish was much different than meals of the same name I've had elsewhere in Lincoln. That makes me want to try a variety of other dishes to see just how unique Mr. Lee's approach is.
The biggest disappointment with our meal was our drinks. Mr. Lee's only offered bottled Coke products when we were there, and they didn't even have cups for water. It sounded like a fountain machine might eventually arrive. I hope so. At the very least they need to provide water cups. Bottled water makes my skin crawl.
Overall Mr. Lee's seems like a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Its size will make some things difficult, but its location and its relatively unique approach to some of its dishes helps it have its own identity from Day 1. Mr. Lee's Chinese Restaurant is located at 4130 S. 48th Street. Call in your carryout order at 402-489-5337.