Cheap food and good food often are not the same thing. As a poor college student, I am very familiar with the first of those two, and it is rare to encounter a restaurant that is both affordable and delicious.
One of my favorites is the pantry at my parents’ house, which is basically an all-you-can-eat buffet, and the take-out is great too: as much as I can fit in my backpack. But in my quest to find the cheapest possible restaurant while still maintaining my standard that I should be able to identify the meat I’m eating (I am now very suspicious of “chicken” nuggets), I have stumbled upon something truly magical. Guilin Chinese Restaurant is inexpensive, the food tastes great, and it’s even healthy, according to the website!
When I entered the restaurant at its new location near the corner of Broadway Blvd. and Swan Rd., I was immediately greeted and taken to a table. It was fairly busy during lunchtime, most of the tables and booths were already filled when I arrived around noon. Water was served shortly after I was seated, and it was always kept full.
The dining area was very open and pleasant, with a bar on one side, and colorful artwork decorating the walls. I couldn’t tell if they were paintings of nature or actual photographs, and I never had time to investigate this because I was quickly distracted with the amount of choices on the one-page menu in front of me. All 50 of them.
The lunch special included much more than I had anticipated. As an incredibly indecisive person, the idea of making four separate choices about the same meal was overwhelming. There was the choice between egg drop or hot and sour soup, then another between an egg roll or crab puffs. Then I faced yet another choice of white, brown, or fried rice, and finally the decision of which entrée to order. All of this was included for the low price of $4.99, or $5.99 if the entrée was shrimp or vegan. I chose the egg drop soup, the egg roll, fried rice, and the sweet and sour chicken. This could be my only opportunity this week to have fresh vegetables, I must use it wisely.
First, the egg drop soup came out; it was so hot that I could barely touch the small bowl. Pieces of egg swirled around in the yellow liquid, along with carrots and some unidentifiable crunchy vegetable that may or may not have been onion. I burned my mouth on the first taste of the soup, but after waiting several more minutes, I tried again. It was flavorful and light, a great appetizer to start the meal.
Once I was done with that, it was only a few minutes before the rest of the food arrived. I was genuinely surprised by how much there was. The egg roll had been nestled in next to a generous serving of fried rice and half a plate of chicken and vegetables. Crunchy and full of vegetables, the egg roll was delicious. It came with sweet and sour sauce for dipping, which made it taste even better, somehow. The fried rice was amazing, and it reminded me why I should stop eating Chinese food at the Student Union. Guilin’s website says they have over 20 years of experience, and it showed. That was the most delicious fried rice I have ever eaten. There was just the right balance of saltiness and spices.
The sweet and sour chicken was comprised of lightly breaded chicken, carrot slices, green bell peppers, onions, and the same sweet and sour sauce that the egg roll came with. It was really a great sauce. The chicken was tender and identifiable; it absorbed the sauce enough to give it flavor, but not enough to make it soggy or mushy. I enjoyed how many vegetables it included. The restaurant definitely lived up to the sign outside announcing “Healthy Chinese Food.” All the vegetables were lightly cooked, yet also crisp and fresh. At the end, the bill was delivered to my table along with a fortune cookie.
What was the worst part of this experience? The parking. Guilin Chinese Restaurant is located next to a strip of other businesses on Broadway, and there is very limited parking spaces out front. The remainder are in this dimly lit alley-like area behind the restaurant with only one way in and out. Thankfully, when I went I was able to park out front, but I can imagine that it gets very complicated when the restaurant is busy and cars are trying to come and go through the same one-way entrance/exit.
This lunch special, which is served until 3 pm every weekday, was two meals in one. I was unable to finish all of the food, so I took about a third of it home for dinner another day. For only $4.99 plus tax and tip, I got two meals of some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. Now, about that parking. …
Location: 4445 E. Broadway Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85711
Prices: $4.99-$5.99 for lunch special, $7-$10 for dinner
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11am-9pm, Friday: 11am-10pm, Saturday: 11:30am-9:30pm, Sunday: 11:30am-9pm.