Review: Chinese food with fire and spice in Stone Oak
Note: This is a Just a Taste review, which the Express-News does soon after a restaurant or bar opens to give our first impressions.
Goodbye Li’s Restaurant & Sushi Bar, hello Li’s Restaurant.
The former, a long-standing Stone Oak bastion of upscale Chinese fare and sushi operated by Li Dan, closed late last year. In its place has risen Li’s Restaurant, a new concept from new owners with a new menu.
The new Li’s Restaurant looks similar to the predecessor, the cozy dining room configured in a similar layout, although some of the decor has been changed. The new menu is focused almost exclusively on what they bill as traditional Sichuanese cuisine, and based on what I sampled, they’re worth a visit the next time you’re craving some face-numbing chile action
On the menu: In general, I’m a fan of the cold and garlicky starters and appetizers served in Sichuan-style restaurants. Li’s take on a fairly common salad, Smashed Cucumbers with Garlic ($6), was full of flavor but less showy than other versions in town. The Mashed Chinese Eggplant ($7) made up for that lack of presentation and was dressed in an engaging sauce of soy, chile and green onion. The Sichuan Garlicky Chicken Cold Noodle ($7) was basically a satisfying and complete meal, a tangle of chewy noodles topped with bean sprouts, shredded chicken and a potent vinaigrette of sichuan peppercorn, chile and ginger.
Fire and spice dominates the rest of the menu, sometimes with more success than others.
I enjoyed the Sichuan Rice Crust Ribs ($22) quite a bit. The dish featured tender and juicy chunks of fried pork tossed in chiles, Sichuan peppercorn and shards of crispy rice cakes for a memorable textural experience.
Poached Spicy Beef ($13) arrived as one of the more balanced dishes of the night. Tender slivers of beef played second fiddle to a rich and fiery stew of chiles and bok choy, the whole thing combining as a heart warming and tongue tingling delight.
Less satisfying was the Spicy & Savory “Tripas” Pork Intestines ($11), mainly because of how much oil the intestines soaked up while sizzling. Sichuan Homestyle Tofu ($9) was the only real disappointment among my orders, a bland and goopy dish of coarsely chopped bell peppers and onions stirred into a lifeless sauce studded with chewy tofu.
It might be easy to overlook Li’s Restaurant — the exterior of the building hasn’t changed and the name is nearly identical to its former occupant. That being said, there are new and interesting things happening in Stone Oak, and I’m happy to pull up a seat.
Location: 20330 Huebner Road, 210-499-0070, lisrestaurant2018.wixsite.com/lisrestaurant, Facebook: @lisrestaurant2018
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Paul Stephen is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen