Lucky Liu's is off to a strong start on Van Buren
When I heard a new Chinese restaurant was opening on Van Buren Street, right around the corner from long-time East Side favorite Emperor of China, I had two thoughts.
First, the owners are really brave.
Second, the restaurant had better be good.
With only a month under its belt, Lucky Liu's, 1664 N. Van Buren St., has already proved itself to be good to great. Lucky Liu's is actually a hybrid Chinese and Japanese restaurant, and both cuisines are served from the tiny storefront that for many, many years housed Aveni's Italian Specialties.
The interior is sparsely decorated and carries the slight scent of new construction. The walls and floors are all new, as are the smattering of tables and chairs within the tiny space. A sushi bar is deftly tucked along one wall, and a long checkout counter that stays bustling with takeout orders is positioned at the entrance.
While the Japanese section of the menu and sushi selections cover nearly as much space as the Chinese section, sushi here would not be my first pick, mainly because the Chinese options are superb.
Sushi connoisseurs will be less than thrilled with the maki and nigiri, which have that carefully rolled deli case look and feel. For novices, or sushi first-timers, Lucky Liu's may be a good place to start, if for no other reason than because you can switch to a Chinese option if the sushi doesn't please your palate.
Appetizers at Lucky Liu's include shrimp egg rolls (two for $2.80) and crab rangoons (six for $4.95), both of which were surprisingly crisp and devoid of any lingering fryer oil for excellent results. The egg rolls were not overly flavorful, but they had a lovely freshness. The rangoons were stuffed with thick cream cheese and bits of crab meat and twisted at the tops to resemble tiny drawstring purses. Pairing these with a dab of Lucky Liu's homemade hot mustard made for an absolute treat.
Mongolian beef ($9.25) and General Tso's chicken ($9.25) came with individual rice containers for each diner, which we loved, and were bright with fresh vegetables and tender meat. Both portions were generous and expertly prepared, making this one of the more enjoyable Chinese dinners I've had in a long time.
The beef arrived with tender crisp julienned vegetables in a mildly sweet brown sauce, and the chicken carried large pieces of steamed broccoli and a sweet and spicy traditional General Tso's brown sauce -- but, unlike many renditions, Lucky Liu's chicken managed to maintain its crispness while still being tender, for delicious results.
A sushi regular ($16.95) ordered to go was plated with tuna (maguro), yellow tail (hamachi), white tuna, two pieces of salmon (sake), a shrimp (ebi), and an order of California rolls. The selections on this plate vary daily, and while the sushi wasn't spectacular, all pieces were fresh, and the sides of wasabi and ginger were quite generous. A dragon roll (eight pieces for $11.95) was so bright with green avocado that it very nearly looked fake, but was actually enjoyable once we got over the appearance.
As if the prices here weren't reasonable enough, Lucky Liu's also offers a free order of crab rangoons or California rolls with any takeout order over $25 with a coupon available on its Web site or in the menu. But if you do get takeout, be sure to ask for the homemade hot mustard, which has become increasingly difficult to find in Chinese restaurants since the clear takeout packets arrived in the market.
At Lucky Liu's, they will pack the real deal for you on request. For Downtown diners, they deliver within a 3-mile radius of the restaurant, beginning at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Lucky Liu's is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
I am a regular sushi eater and have eaten sushi at a large variety of sushi restaurants over the years. I keep coming back here for the good taste and affordability. As far as the sushi goes, I feel it has better than most places I've been to. The green of the avocado simply means it was a fresh avocado and didn't have time to oxidize. The fire dragon roll and volcano rolls are excellent and can rival some higher end sushi restaurants at a fraction of the cost. The plating design is very clean and appealing. They also have a lunch special where you can get 2 or 3 rolls at a discounted price. I would also recommend the salmon or tuna Tata appetizer: one of my favorites on the menu.
Heard of this new Chinese-Japanese mix restaurant- very excited, so we gave it a try. Very disappointed though...We ordered pak choi with garlic sauce and we didn't see any pak choi in there, at all!! It's a mix of sliced cabbage, carrots, some other stuff we can't even tell, with funky-tasting sauce. Chinese fried chicken is horrible, too. Can't really eat a whole one. Too bad it turned out like another Chin's, which was just closed last month.
Brought a vegetarian colleague of mine over there for lunch when they first opened, and can't stop going back. Excellent food that's reasonably priced. I'm always happy to pay a little more for good quality - fresh meals, but I got all that and more for a lot less money than I'd expected at LL's. Great job - keep it up...
I always judge a new Chinese Restaurant by the Sesame Chicken. If this gets screwed up, I don't really go much further. Sesame at Lucky Lius...Fantastic. I will be back.
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