Secret Menus: Authentic Chinese at AW Lin's

Uncovering a secret menu anywhere we eat is one of our favorite things around here. We hunt through Little Rock to find hidden items that are off the normal menu. First up is a huge one with AW Lin’s authentic Chinese menu.
The menu itself was once handed out with the main menu and was slowly held back over time. While the menu is printed, and available online, it is available on request only, so you have to know it exists to find it. On it you will find a list of over 40 authentic Chinese dishes that are easily the best eats in the restaurant.
“When we moved here and opened A.W. Lin’s we found that most Chinese food in town was the Americanized Chinese buffets,” owner Jenny Liu tells us. “We wanted to create something for Chinese people to enjoy and have a taste of home.”
A.W. Lin’s brought in a chef and worked with the local Chinese community to create the extremely large menu, that is printed in both Mandarin Chinese and English. You will not find any General Tso Chicken or fried crab wonton. What you will find is a very solid mix of dumplings, soups, meat, and vegetable dishes that are pulled from most of the main regions of Chinese cuisine.
We worked our way through several of the dishes, and after eating A.W. Lins before, it represents the best the menu has to offer. The hot fish in particular stood out, and was something I have not had in 16 years, since my freshman year of college, when several Chinese friends made a very similar dish for me. It is hearty and spicy, served in a broth of vegetables and fish along with a side of rice.

The duck steamed buns on the menu are a great addition for someone who loves authentic buns. These are typical folded buns, and are much larger than some other places in town. They also have a pork version if you are not interested in duck.
There are several noodle and dumpling options on the menu, available mostly in soup format. They have a wide selection of authentic entrees, including some a pork belly dish we also tried, that cover a wide array of flavors. It also features a good mix of diets with a strong selection of fish, including a whole red snapper, and even a number of vegetarian options.  The menu also steps outside of China a bit with authentic Vietnamese pho and Taiwan beef noodle soup.
“We have a great local group of people from China that come in frequently for the menu,” Liu continues. “In fact, because it is one of the few like this in the state, we have had a lot of people from all over the state drive in to eat it. For many of them it is the only place that they have access to eat some of the foods they grew up on.”
The menu is not entirely limited to what is printed either. Liu says that if someone has an authentic Chinese dish that they want the restaurant to cook, they can request it. She just asks for a bit of lead time to source ingredients which are sometimes hard to find around the city.
Overall it is worth checking out, especially if you appreciate more authentic Chinese food. I find myself quickly passing on the main menu and requesting the secret menu every time.
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