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RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Everyone go whee! for Mr. Hui's

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Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/CARLA KOEN

A lunch portion of General Tso’s Chicken comes with a choice of rice (fried is pictured here), crab rangoon, an egg roll and a few pieces of broccoli at Mr. Hui’s Restaurant in Little Rock.

How does one say "Mr. Hui's?" What way -- or is that whey? -- is it pronounced? Whee? Huey?

For the record, it's pronounced like "whee," with extra emphasis on the "H."

Mr. Hui’s Restaurant

Address: Pleasant Ridge Town Center, 11525 Cantrell Road, Little Rock

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Authentic Chinese

Credit cards: D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine permit pending

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes (via phone, online or app)

(501) 478-6666

mrhuislittlerock.com

And it's fitting, because for the most part, meals from Mr. Hui's Restaurant gave us great delight. Whee!

The new eatery might be located in tony Pleasant Ridge Town Center, but tiny Mr. Hui's, wedged in the back close to Belk department store, is quite cost-effective and casual. Contemporary pendant and track lighting illuminate the clean interior of basic booths and four-top tables. Save for a waving cat and posted menu photos of dishes like Pork with Bamboo & Beancurd, one wouldn't know it was a Chinese restaurant.

And make no mistake that authentic Mr. Hui's is a Chinese restaurant. It's not a highfalutin Asian-fusion bistro. And it's not a "Chinese" buffet with sushi rolls, a Mongolian grill and corn dogs.

Mr. Hui's, related to Mr. Chen's on Little Rock's South University Avenue and Mr. Cheng's on North Little Rock's East McCain Boulevard, is the kind of Chinese eatery that almost seems retro, refreshingly so.

"Nonpretentious ... reminds me of places where I ate in college," summarized my friend, nailing it.

While the surroundings are simple, the menu is sizable. There are more than 120 chicken, seafood, noodle, rice, pork, beef, vegetable and tofu entrees. And that's not counting the appetizers, soup/clay pot selections and lunch options.

That the menu is so lengthy creates one large problem: There is no room for dish descriptions or pictures. None. Not even online.

So how is one supposed to know the difference between the Szechuan Chicken, Hunan Chicken, Chicken with Garlic Sauce or Hui's Crazy Spicy Chicken?

The staff we encountered spoke English confidently, so they assisted. But sometimes we visual learners need to read/see how the Mei Fun is different from the Chow Mein is different from the Chow Fun. (Speaking of fun, we did get the giggles finding the menu's unintentional typos: like the Hot & Spicy Shredded "Porkl" and the Griddle Pork "Inestine.")

Not knowing what to expect made us stick closer to what we know. So never did we order anything too adventurous like the Broken-Hearted Bean Jelly ($5.95) appetizer, the Spicy Sliced Pork Ears ($6.95) or the Hot Pot Frog entree ($12.95). But after enjoying one carryout and two sit-down meals from Mr. Hui's, we would not hesitate to experiment in the future. A little. We still don't see "inestines," ears, frog or bean jelly, regardless of its emotional state, in our future any time soon.

During my first dinner there with a date, we went with a familiar starter, Pan Fried Dumplings ($5.95; steamed is another option). Served with a salty dipping sauce, the eight prefab dumplings were fine if forgettable.

He ordered the Singapore Mei Fun ($9.95) and liked the plentiful pile of thin noodles, shrimp, chicken (maybe?), pork (we think?), cabbage and spring onions. It wasn't particularly spicy, as the pepper icon denoted, but it still possessed a prominent though not too heavy curry essence.

The Beef with Garlic Sauce ($10.95) featured tender slices of beef (not the tough, gristly pieces we've encountered at some area Chinese restaurants) and colorful, slightly crisp vegetables, including green pepper, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and baby corn.

Entrees come with steamed rice. Fried rice at dinner is a $2.50 upgrade, as we would learn after ordering and paying via the BeyondMenu mobile app (one can order by phone or web as well), then having to pay an additional $5 for two orders of rice when we arrived.

That was the only hiccup in an otherwise perfect takeout experience. The well-packed order -- Egg Drop Soup for two ($4.95), Orange Chicken ($9.95), Hunan Beef ($10.95) and Taiwanese Style Braised Pork on Rice ($7.95) -- was hot and ready when we arrived about 15 minutes later. A small line ahead of us confirmed Mr. Hui's already is a popular carryout spot.

Typically egg drop doesn't excite me, but this soup -- full-bodied and full of carrots, peas and fresh mushrooms -- was more lively than most. (If only we were wowed by the Hot and Sour Soup -- more on that in a minute.)

Earlier we wondered what is the difference between, say, the garlic sauce and Hunan versions of dishes? Not much in the case of beef. The Hunan variety also contained snow peas and a bit more heat from red pepper flakes. Otherwise, they seemed similar.

My Orange Chicken, served with three pieces of broccoli as a garnish, could have been a bit saucier (more than likely the lightly fried chicken pieces soaked it up during transport); still, sunny slivers of orange peel and potent dried red chili peppers delivered dynamic flavor.

The best part of the meal, however, was ordered as an afterthought. My companion had requested an extra order of Pork Fried Rice, but when that wasn't on the menu, I selected the Taiwanese Style Braised Pork on Rice. We expected a few bits of pork stirred into rice. But what we got was several hefty pieces of braised pork (was that hoisin sauce we detected?) with a piquant relish (is that cabbage? Is it pickled? Is that cilantro?) over rice. What a treat, and a bargain. We only wish we -- and the menu -- could describe it better.

The restaurant was pretty busy on a weekday when I dined with a friend. We both selected one of the 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily lunch specials, which the menu says comes with steamed or fried rice, an egg roll and crab rangoon. Though the menu doesn't specify soup is included, it appears to be. When we asked, our server said it came with meals and we weren't charged extra for our two cups of Hot and Sour Soup.

Having no idea how the Hot & Spicy Shredded "Porkl" ($6.75) would be prepared, I was pleasantly surprised by the tasty pork mixed with slices of onions, green peppers, carrots, made fiery with dried red chiles. Both the crab rangoon and the egg roll were standard.

My friend ordered the General Tso's Chicken ($6.75), and here are her impressions: "The chicken was fresh and hot and delicious. Not spicy, like the menu's pepper symbol suggests, but sweet and savory with a crispy coating and juicy chicken inside. A couple of pieces of decorative steamed broccoli let me pretend I was eating at least slightly healthfully."

There was only one thing we didn't like, but unfortunately it was a big thing. The Hot and Sour Soup, the standard by which we judge Chinese restaurants, was neither hot, nor sour, nor up to our standards. The flavorless soup appeared and tasted anemic. Here's hoping it was just having an off day.

Because we -- whee! -- look forward to more Mr. Hui's.

Weekend on 04/13/2017

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