Review No. 58: Rong Chinese Restaurant
126 Harkrider Street
32.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: We became aware there was ANOTHER new restaurant in Conway tooling down Harkrider recently, when we saw the sign that Rong Chinese Restaurant was coming soon. Of course, we made some of the irresistible jokes (we’re 12, okay?), but I had a little nostalgia for the Mr. Stir Fry building, as that was the first Chinese place we frequented when we moved to Conway in 2003. I was eager to return and hoped it would be triumphant. So, we tooled on over there with my 91-year-old mother, who is visiting us from Sioux Falls, S.D.
He Said: It’s not really an ideal spot for a restaurant—the building is pretty small and not particularly inviting, which may be why Mr. Stir Fry didn’t make it. And it’s right next to the Conway institution that is Holly’s Country Cooking. But the Rong people have got it right, I think, in emphasizing pick-up and delivery. You can of course eat in the restaurant as well, but the sign does give the phone number and the URL for people wanting to call an order in, and the delivery option is a good one to have.
My Mom: I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants quite a bit in my life, and I was able to find a dish that I like.
She Said: The dining area is small, but welcoming. I like the big, dark-wood tables that hold all the plates and bowls for all the Chinese food you can order. When we arrived around 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, we were the only people in the restaurant, but another table was soon occupied. We sat at a window that looks out on the rather utilitarian outdoor dining area and a not very pretty part of Harkrider, but I was comfortable in the restaurant and would dine in again, except for the drinks (see below).
He Said: Yes, it’s small but not unpleasant, with little pictures on the wall that give you a little bit of the feel of China. They have two picnic tables out on their patio that could be nice to eat at in good weather, though as Jones says it’s not the most scenic part of the city. And while there was only one other customer eating in the dining room, a pickup customer did come in while we were there, and a delivery man came back from, I assume, making deliveries.
My Mom: It was certainly not very fancy! But it was comfortable.
She Said: They don’t have fountain drinks, so soda and water come in bottles. I ordered unsweet tea, which was in a glass with lemon. It was good, but after the refill, there was something thick in my straw, maybe the mix? The drinks are really their weakness and, for me, a major discouragement for dining in.
He Said: Yeah, if I went again I’d order a bottle or can of Coke or root beer. I also had the tea, and sucked something soggy up in my straw, which I think was part of a paper wrapper of some kind. I did ask for a different glass, and was brought another with no hassle, and it seemed to be OK.
My Mom: It kind of surprised me when they brought the water in the bottle, and I had to ask for a straw, because I didn’t like drinking out of the bottle.
She Said: My go-to Chinese meal is cashew chicken; it’s a good measure of a Chinese restaurant to me because of the opportunity for fresh veggies, tasty chicken and generosity with cashews. I ate the best cashew chicken of my life at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant outside the Forbidden City in Beijing where we were the only white people in the place, and I was pretty sure they had just picked those vegetables from their garden that day. This was not quite that good, but the vegetables were the real standout of the dish: crisp-tender water chestnuts, baby corn, carrots and more. They were plentiful and fresh. Some bites of the chicken were rather fatty, but the tangy sauce on the meat was very tasty. The cashews were too rare for my taste. So, I’ll add more of my own in when I eat the left-overs at home (I was able to eat about one third of the dish I was served—all the lunch servings were so big the three of us could have easily shared one selection). The lunch dishes at Rong come with fried rice, which was stellar, with large bites of scrambled egg as well as additional veggies, like peas, celery and carrots, in smaller bites. I would order just the fried rice for my meal any time.
The lunches also come with soup or soda, but I declined both and ordered the fried wantons with cheese. There were eight of these, and though I worked hard, I ate three. These are served with sweet and sour sauce in a soup bowl, so they give you plenty! These are a different consistency than I am used to on Chinese-food buffets, where the dough is lighter and fries up crispier. They had a smooth shell and had a healthy amount of cream cheese within. I liked them, and brought the rest home to definitely enjoy again. With the sauce, they also made a good dessert.
He Said: I ordered the sesame chicken, which came with fried rice and a cup of soup if desired, and the soup today was egg drop soup. This came pretty quickly with some wantons. The soup was OK. I wasn’t bowled over by it, but it was fine. I’d call it average. I would have preferred miso soup, but as I type that I realize that’s actually Japanese, so I’m not likely to find it here any time in the future. If you really like egg drop soup, you’d probably like this.
My entrée was the sesame chicken. If you’re not familiar with this dish, it’s made up of deep-fried chicken pieces in a fairly thick, sweet reddish sauce made with, usually, some combination of corn starch, soy sauce, vinegar, chicken broth, sugar, sesame oil and chili paste. The sesame chicken here at Rong was very tasty, sweet and tangy. It was quite delicious, and the fried rice it came with was excellent as well, and there was a lot of it.
That’s one of the things we all noticed about the food here: they do not skimp! Both Jones and Mother Jones asked for boxes to take their leftovers home. I didn’t need one—the sesame chicken was so good I couldn’t bear to leave any, and I ate almost all of the fried rice. So…nothing for me to take home.
Mom: I had my favorite Chinese dish, Moo Goo Gai Pan. Usually it’s served with the vegetables and chicken in a sauce, and I was to help myself to rice from a different dish. Here, they bring it with everything mixed with the rice. There was so much rice! So, the dish itself is overpowered by the rice. It seemed dry, too, because it’s usually served in the sauce, but without that, it’s not as tender. I also had the egg drop soup, which I liked.
She Said: This is definitely a family-run business, as Mom and Dad and sons all waited on us at one point or another. First of all, the service was FAST, and we were ready for that after somehow finding ourselves at a string of restaurants with very, very slow service. We were seated right away, we were waited on right away, our food and drinks arrived RIGHT AWAY. They were very attentive and asked us if we wanted more drinks, more sauce, boxes to go, etc. If I were to fault their service at all, it might have been a bit too intrusive, as more than one person sometimes asked us if we wanted something. But I prefer this over being ignored or neglected. They were very friendly and pleasant.
He Said: Yes to everything Jones said. I suppose the fact that we were the only folks eating there for awhile contributed to the fact that so many people were eager to help us. But we were definitely never forgotten.
My Mom: It was different to have several different servers coming to ask us if we needed anything, but it was definitely good service.
What We Got and What We Paid: Moo Goo Gai Pan, two egg-drop soups, sesame chicken, cashew chicken, fried wantons, two iced teas, one bottle of water for $29.73.
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: We forgot to keep track! But, I’m sure it wasn’t more than 15 minutes from our arrival until our entrees came to the table, and in the meantime we were slurping soup and munching on fried wantons.
She Said: Tasty Chinese food fast in a pleasant-enough setting and attentive service. I’d probably try delivery next time, though, so I could have my own drinks and add more cashews.
He Said: A good place for lunch, I think. They were quite speedy with the service, and if you really have no time, you can call and pick something up or have it delivered. Lots of possibilities here for a speedy and tasty lunch. For myself, I expect I’ll be ordering the sesame chicken here quite often. I’ll have it delivered. That way I can get whatever I want to drink.
My Mom: Good service, maybe a little too much rice.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here or order from here for speedy, tasty Chinese food in Conway.
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.