Ling’s Cafe always a fresh choice

Ling’s Cafe
Japanese and Chinese Food.
Dine In or Carry Out are Available

2011 North Topeka Boulevard | 785-233-5888
Hours: Open daily, 11:00am-9:30pm
Accepting Visa, Master Card and Discover

I first noticed Ling’s Cafe in Sutton Plaza while seeking out Maj-R-Thrift, a thrift shop recommended by seveneightfive staffer Erin Wynkoop.  For all the lunching and reporting Loretta does, she finds it very inexpensive to shop at such places for new clothing for her yo-yo’ing sizes. Anyway, back to the point. Ling’s is located just to the north and a little back of Maj-R-Thrift, but their large signage makes them hard to miss. The windows are all mirrored, so other than a lit neon-style sign reading, Open: Japanese/Chinese Food with their phone and fax machine numbers, I would have thought they were closed, as no activity inside could be seen. Upon entering I was surprised by the small seating area. There are about 6-8 tables seating 2-4 people and three booths along one wall. The restaurant was 1/3 full. It is very clean, and the overhead music, Chinese pop ballads, is amusing and sweet. My dining companion and I approached the counter and perused a paper menu while awaiting service. A young lady appeared quickly showed us to a booth.

Looking at the regular plastic-sleeved menus I  looked for a sushi option. Even though the signage didn’t state sushi, I was optimistic that Japanese food options might include such. My companion was hoping for tempura. Unfortunately, the only Japanese food items to be found were miso soup and teriyaki vegetable, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki steak, teriyaki shrimp, teriyaki scallops… you get the picture.

Cafe Sample Appetizer

I  ordered the Cafe Sample (for 2, $6.99), a sampling of their appetizer offerings, including egg roll, spring roll, crab rangoon, chicken on a stick and fried chicken wing, mostly to buy time for checking out the rest of the menu before making a decision. The Lunch Special menu is available Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and includes a spring roll and fried rice. Prices start at $4.29 and top out at $5.99. I decided on the chicken with hot garlic sauce, and my friend ordered the vegetable lo mein, each $4.99. The server was happy to let my companion substitute white rice for the fried rice.

I thought the wait for our appetizer was a bit long, so I continued looking over the paper menu I had carried to my seat. The top of the menu stated, “Grand Opening.” There was also the lettering, M.S.G., with the internationally-known circle and slash mark. This pleased me as monosodium glutamate triggers symptoms for me as it does for many others: headache and/or upset stomach. Loretta just didn’t need to feel like that for kicking off the weekend.

The appetizer appeared and being hungry little caterpillars, my companion and I reached for the crab rangoons. I cut mine in half and poured some of the accompanying sweet & sour sauce over it before shoving it in my mouth. Now Loretta has to tell you she is a bit biased when it comes to crab rangoon. Loretta spends a bit of time at College Hill Tavern where the CR is a menu favorite. The Tav’s smaller CR with chunks of crab (or krab? who cares?), and their spicy red sauce just tastes better than CR offerings at any Chinese restaurant in town.

I moved on to the spring roll. Loretta is not a huge spring roll fan, but her companion is and was very pleased. Loretta does however love her egg rolls. Perhaps because it’s a fried food item? I cut it in half and took a bite without any hot mustard (which is available by asking), and was instantly please. It tasted very fresh, so fresh, that it just had to be. Next up was the chicken on the stick which was very tasty and tender. My last appetizer item, the fried chicken wing, had a crispy coating which was seasoned to perfection, and the meat also very tender, very juicy.

Vegetable Lo Mein

When our entrees arrived, I was no longer thinking about how long it took to get our apps, completely forgot my disappointment about the lack of sushi and tempura. I asked our server about the freshness of the egg rolls and spring rolls. She confirmed that they are made fresh daily, from the chopping/slicing of the veggies, the cooking and cutting of the pork for the egg rolls, and wrapping them, then frying or cooking them upon order. Noting the, “Grand Opening,” on the paper menu, she stated they had been open for about seven months.

Chicken in hot garlic sauce

The entrees were wonderful. My companion was pleased with her vegetable lo mein, particularly with the done-ness of the broccoli and the abundance of sliced mushrooms. I found my chicken with hot garlic sauce to be pleasing to the Goldilocks in me, not too spicy, no where near bland, just right. I was also happy with the vegetables again! My dish included a nice even blend of baby corn, broccoli florets, carrot ribbons, button mushrooms, green peppers, and more. Not being a green pepper fan, Loretta was not overwhelmed by the one pepper she doesn’t like, and it was easy to eat around the big green chunks.

Ling’s Cafe seems to be a little known secret. Although there was a steady stream of customers, dining in and carrying out, the tables were never full, and there was the one server the entire time handling everything quite well.

Time [from entering to exiting]: 40-50 minutes. A day worker can easily arrive, eat, and leave over the lunch hour.
Cost per person: Lunches as mentioned above. Dinner entrees range from $5.99 to $14.99.
Stomach report: Good-sized portions. You can definitely fill up your belly.
Leftovers: Yes, both my companion and I are set for when the traditional, “You’ll be hungry again soon,” Chinese food curse (or blessing?) hits.
Is there a return visit in order: Yes.
Seen + Noted items: The Family Dinner Special is only $14.99 and includes your family’s choice of two entrees, steamed rice and two egg rolls. This can easily feed 4-6 people.
If I could change one thing or had a suggestion: Add more Japanese offerings, or remove the teriyaki dishes and keep the focus on  Chinese dishes. And continue with the freshness! This is one thing that could set Ling’s Cafe apart from the other Chinese restaurants in Topeka.

[ December 2011 | photos by Loretta ]

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