Southeast Lincoln lost a superb Asian restaurant but got another to replace it.
Ms. Chen 56 took over the spot in the Alamo shopping center at 56th Street and Nebraska 2 where Korea House used to be. It opened March 15.
Ms. Chen 56 specializes in American Chinese fare, with a menu featuring more than 100 items for dine in, takeout or delivery. It’s owned by husband-and-wife Ken Xie and Yuki Chen. The 56 part of the name is for 56th Street.
American Chinese is Chinese fare adapted to American tastes. You’ll find such popular entrees as beef and broccoli, General Tso’s chicken, peanut butter chicken, pepper steak and orange chicken – all staples of American Chinese cuisine.
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Xie and Chen are from Fujian, a province in southeast China. They’ve been in the United States for nearly 18 years and in Lincoln since January 2014, coming here to join family. They have two children, ages 7 and 4.
“When people ask why we came to the U.S., I tell them we like the freedom,” Chen said. “We like the freedom to say what you want to say.”
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The Alamo, Edgewood and Old Cheney shopping centers at 56th and Nebraska 2 are destinations for Lincoln residents and that’s what drew Xie and Chen to open their restaurant in the area.
Chinese restaurants – oddly – are often judged by their crab Rangoon and egg rolls, and Ms. Chen 56 passes the test. Just check the early reviews on Yelp, with several customers saying the crab Rangoon ($3.75 for four or $6.75 for eight) is the best in town.
The key is the wonton wrapper is thin, allowing the flavors of the cream cheese and crab mixture to come through and not get lost in a crunchy mess from a thick wrapper. The egg rolls also feature thin wontons wrapped around tasty meat-and-veggie fillings.
The American Chinese menu features a variety of chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetarian, lo mein, mei fun and fried rice dishes, ranging from $8.95 to $16.50. There are also a dozen chef specials, including such favorites as Happy Family and salted crispy chicken, costing $12.55 to $16.50. Portions are huge, with most entrees large enough to feed two easily. Most dishes come with steamed white rice.
Also on the menu are several appetizers and soups. The restaurant features daily lunch specials, ranging from $7.50 to $8.25. Those specials come with an egg roll and crab Rangoon.
On our visit, my wife and I enjoyed a shrimp mei fun (thin noodles; $10.95) and salted crispy chicken ($12.75), four crab Rangoon ($3.75) and two egg rolls ($3.50). The mei fun dish included more than 10 shrimp, while the salted crispy chicken was an ample helping of lightly breaded chicken pieces. We would order both again.
Ms. Chen has four grand opening specials that go until the end of June. Ask about them when you call or grab the to-go menu. They’re pretty good deals, especially the “2 for $26.99” cash-only option featuring two entrees (no shrimp or chef’s specials), two egg rolls and four crab Rangoon. Grade: A-
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Chen and Xie changed the wall color – from yellow-orange to gray – and that’s about it. They kept the layout, tile floors, lower wall paneling and furniture – light gray tables and dark gray chairs and booths – from Korea House. It’s contemporary-looking and very clean. The restaurant features some Chinese wall art, including a large landscape at the back and an aquarium near the register. A big plus is the two-door entry, which prevents cold or hot air from outside blowing in on diners. Grade: A
What I love about Chinese restaurants is they serve the food as soon as it’s ready instead of waiting until the entire order is done. That way you get your food hot rather than receiving one hot dish and one that’s lukewarm. My entree arrived first and my wife nibbled off it until hers arrived a couple of minutes later. The wait wasn’t long for any of the food. Our appetizers came out of the kitchen less than five minutes after ordering and the entrees arrived soon after. The only odd thing about our experience: our hot tea was served in Styrofoam cups instead of teacups. Grade: A-
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Several choices are available for vegetarians, including a section of the menu with seven entrees (sizzling tofu, General Tso’s Bean Curd, etc.). The menu also includes several nonmeat appetizers (seaweed salad, veggie egg or spring rolls, etc.) and soups. Gluten-free dining is not noted, so check with servers with how food is prepared. Grade: A
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A selection of the most delicious dishes at Lincoln restaurants
High Peak Asian Restaurant
Mughil’s Indian Cuisine
Koen Japanese BBQ and Sushi
Mi Tierra Family Mexican Restaurant
Phat Jack’s BBQ
Piedmont Bistro by Venue
The Rabbit Hole
The Hub Cafe
Jeff Korbelik is the winery manager at James Arthur Vineyards, former Journal Star features editor and author of “Lost Restaurants of Lincoln, Nebraska.” He’s written restaurant reviews for Ground Zero since 1998.