Craig Street’s Asian trifecta

While some stand indecisive at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Craig Street, deadlocked between the corporate Starbucks and the pleasantly alternative Kiva Han, hungrier Pittsburghers face a more formidable decision: where to go for Asian food. Mere minutes from Carnegie Mellon, the Forbes-Craig region offers a veritable trifecta of options, such as chow fun, lo mein, and “with broccoli,” among other delicacies. Read on for a rundown of the three competing restaurants, and have your chopsticks and steamed rice ready — this could get messy.

Orient Express
4609 Forbes Avenue, 412.622.7232.

Your first stop on the road to rice cakes, Orient Express
— known as “The Orient” by affectionate locals — lives up to its name, specializing in cuisine made ready almost suspiciously fast. Though ordering at the table is by no means a slow process, particularly hurried customers might consider calling ahead; by the time you make the five-minute walk from Morewood, your shrimp will be with lobster sauce, your chicken with cashews, your beef with broccoli. Entrees run $6 to $9.

The food here is generally low quality, though it has a tendency to fill a certain spot. The chicken and tofu are the most dependable proteins, as there is about a 10 percent chance that beef will come out either too rubbery or too crispy. The shrimp and other seafood options are good, but tend to come in smaller portions than their aforementioned cheaper counterparts. Noodle classic Pad Thai is noticeably lacking from the menu. In addition to food, Orient Express offers bubble tea, available warm, iced, and in smoothie form, the latter of which is ideal for those inexperienced in the world of tapioca-infused beverages.

Around since 2005, Orient Express was closed at the beginning of the semester for repairs, but reopened a couple of weeks ago with all its facilities intact. The decor is sparse but inoffensive, allowing visitors to focus on what’s most important: the sauce.

Little Asia
301 S. Craig St., 412.622.0133.

Nestled in a cozy shopping center, Little Asia — nicknamed “Asia Minor,” if you will — is a little hard to find but worth the effort. The service is not particularly fast or skilled, but the food more than makes up for this deficit. Prices are comparable to those at Orient Express, but it feels more like you’re eating at a real restaurant.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Little Asia’s menu is an entree called Amazing Chicken, a glorified General Tso’s Chicken with white meat. The dish lives up to its name, but beware, the leftovers take a turn for the unappetizing after a couple hours in the refrigerator. (The equally good Sesame Chicken and the rest of the chicken options are also available in white meat, but you have to ask.) Also impressive is the lo mein, which is hearty enough to instill the warm and fuzzies in your stomach as you wolf it down (or daintily consume it). The Pad Thai is a bit irregular, sporting thick noodles instead of the usual skinny ones; it’s enjoyable for a change, and endures refrigeration well. As for appetizers, the crab rangoon is like a little bite of heaven — or four, actually. (For those unaware, crab rangoon are fried dumplings holding warm, cream-cheesed bits of crab.)

Try stopping by for the lunch special, where you get an entree, fried or steamed rice, and a small appetizer for under $6. Tapioca connoisseurs should exercise caution, though, as Little Asia does not offer bubble tea.

Another roadblock is the atmosphere, crammed with awkward tables and walls at odd angles. Also, customers have to use the shopping center bathroom, which requires a long walk and a trek down a sketchy staircase.

LuLu’s Noodles
400 S. Craig St., 412.687.7777.

Among the trifecta, LuLu’s is the only restaurant worthy of a date or legitimate social outing — that is, unless you know the person well. The spacious atmosphere makes for a pleasant meal. LuLu’s is also the most expensive and time-consuming option of the bunch, but the quality of food and service suggest that this is a fair trade. Most LuLu’s enthusiasts can probably only tell you about one or two dishes on the menu, because once you find an entree you like, it’s hard to justify ordering anything else. Though LuLu’s is pricier than its competitors (prices for entrees range from $8 to $10), it’s still pretty cheap in the scheme of things.

From the photographs on the walls to the artfully crafted dishes customers love to order, LuLu’s is known for its noodles. The Pad Thai, a standard for many customers, is anything but standard; at LuLu’s, the dish is unusually sweet, offering a pleasant twist on a classic meal. Also impressive, the chow fun and lo mein are both mouth-watering without tasting greasy. LuLu’s also offers some standard Asian entrees, like General Tso’s Chicken, along with more high-class noodle and rice bowls that you won’t find on competing menus.

LuLu’s is also a choice destination for bubble tea, offering more flavors than Orient Express, and in addition both smoothies and freezes (yogurt-free blended drinks).