Since I last surveyed the Asian food scene in Yuma there have been many changes. Tai San, perhaps the worst Chinese restaurant I've ever eaten in, has closed (hurray!). Several new places have opened. This posting is not meant to be a full review of any of the restaurants listed, but rather a brief survey - well as brief as I can be, I guess.
Overall my favorite Asian restaurant in Yuma is Yummy Yummy. This tiny, sleazy looking Cantonese eatery in the back of a strip mall on Avenue A is known among Yumans mostly for its $3.75 lunch specials. However, I believe the restaurant really shines in its presentation of basic Cantonese dishes. If you like authentic Chinese food, be sure to ask what is available in Chinese vegetables. Over the years, I have had bitter melon, yu choi, on choi, gai lan, long beans, and even squash wonderfully prepared. For the really adventurous, you can even have the greens prepared with a foo-yee sauce, a wonderful concoction of fermented tofu and garlic. Tofu dishes here are uniformly wonderful; friends who swore that they hated tofu have been turned into tofu lovers. Some of my other favorites: pork ribs in black bean sauce, squid in hot sauce, shrimp with vegetables, beef and pineapple, abalone in oyster sauce, and kung pao chicken (here made with no peanuts, oddly enough). Because the family that runs the restaurant spent time in Mexicali after leaving Guandong, they are fluent in Spanish (as well as Cantonese) and prepare spicy dishes better than you would normally expect in a Cantonese restaurant. And even if your tastes run to chicken chop suey, egg foo yung, and sweet and sour chicken, these are all delightful here.
The India House is a nice addition to the Yuma restaurant scene. The $6.45 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is one of the best deals in town. While this is not a cutting edge restaurant, it prepares the standard northern Indian dishes decently. When ordering off the menu, it is possible to get dishes that are seriously hot - I mean picante not caliente. I have tried most of the items on the menu (with the exception of beef dishes; I try to avoid eating beef in Indian restaurants) and almost all of them have been well prepared. If you're the sort of person who usually likes fried rice, try one of their biryanis. They also have a wide selection of Indian breads in addition to nan. This is also one of the few restaurants in Yuma with a wide range of choices for vegetarian diners.
The Highway 95 Café is another welcome addition to Yuma's Asian food options. As I understand it, the two chefs and owners had worked for years at the Mandarin Palace. Since the Mandarin Palace has now become largely a buffet operation, these guys, who I am told are ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia, decided to go off on their own and prepare Mandarin, Szechuan, Thai, and other Southeast Asian dishes. Although some of my friends believe that this is the best Asian restaurant in town, I find it pretty hit and miss. Some dishes can be very good; I have liked the chicken curry, the stuffed tofu appetizer, the hot and sour tom yum soup, and the spicy mussels dish. On the other hand, there are things that I dislike very much. The "pan fried dumplings" are deep-fried and lousy. The Indian Mee Goreng was terrible, and the moo shu chicken was pretty lame. This is a restaurant that may have a long run of success in Yuma, but wouldn't survive long in any large city.
The Hawaii Garden Japanese buffet is located in the big curve area in the space that was once a Carrow's and then was Bahama Island Grill. It is certainly an improvement on its two predecessors (but then again, Bahamas was truly terrible). Unfortunately, it is hard to have an all-you-can-eat Japanese food buffet while charging the sort of prices that locals in Yuma expect to pay. Therefore, while the sushi rice tastes fine, the all-you-can-eat sushi has very little fish and a whole lot of rice. For example, the ikura has five or six lonely salmon eggs parked on 2 inches of sushi rice wrapped up in seaweed. The cooked dishes are okay, but tempura is not improved by sitting on a steam table; and I have never before seen artificial crab tempura. The miso soup is mediocre, and the kalbi would distress a Korean. In addition, I'm afraid this restaurant will not last long as it is in a huge space and there are normally very few diners there.
Ah-So Steak and Sushi is part of a large chain and is thus fittingly located in the Yuma Palms Plaza with its soulless collection of chain restaurants and chain stores. A good joke would be to call it So So Steak and Sushi, but that would be giving it too high of a recommendation. Maybe Ah-Ful would be more accurate. I have not tried the cooked food there (please, dear reader, don't make me have to go back), but the sushi varies from adequate to nasty. The first time I was there, I was with friends and sitting at a table. The miso soup was very good. My chicken teriyaki loving friend hated the chicken teriyaki that he was served. But (at least initially) I was served nothing bad because they lost my order, and I sat there for 45 minutes waiting for some food to show up. No amount of complaining, hand-waving, or begging could get me my food until I had talked to a manager. The manager then proceeded to explain that it wasn't their fault. On that visit, when my sushi combo finally showed up, most of it was okay, which truly was the best I could expect. More recently I went back to try the sushi one more time (the price one pays to be a chowhound) and sat at the sushi bar. The Korean sushi chef had come here from Boston, and that led me to wonder what terrible thing he must've done there to be exiled to the desert. The miso soup was again good. The yellowtail and the salmon were decent. On the other hand, the eel was served at cool room temperature smeared with cold sauce. Blech! The albacore tasted very dead for a long time. Even the tuna - and every sushi bar ought to have decent tuna - had an off flavor and had seen better days. In a moment of folly, I ordered mackerel. Huge mistake. The fish was old and chewy. In an effort to disguise the flavor, the chef squirted a bunch of ponzu over everything. Not only did the sauce fail to cover up the nasty taste of the fish, it added to it. It also soaked the sushi rice thoroughly and it and the saba left me with a disgusting taste in my mouth for the next hour. The seven piece combination with tuna roll and that mackerel (the memory still makes me shudder) set me back $21. I feel like I paid the price in more ways than one.
In the same mall, one can find the Hawaiian Barbecue. Yes, I know Hawaii is not technically in Asia, but Hawaiian food is heavily influenced by Asian cuisine (and Spam). This place has all the earmarks of a chain – menus with pictures etc. Nonetheless, the food is really adequate. The barbecued chicken is good – and my teriyaki loving friend loved the teriyaki sauce. The chicken katsu, while not very chickeny, was nicely crunchy and served with a good Worcestershire based katsu sauce. The kalua pork was nicely shredded and fairly mildly flavored; in fact, it seemed better on my most recent visit than on my first. Even the loco moco was well prepared. The preformed patty was not over cooked, the egg had a just slightly runny center, the grill had left no dirty grill particles on things, and the gravy was adequate. Honestly we were all surprised that the food was as good as it tasted. This is also the place to get boba drinks.
I also should mention that there are several Chinese buffets in town. The least bad (in my humble opinion) is the Mandarin Palace. If I have forgotten about another Asian restaurant in town, it must be it a pretty forgettable place.
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