Score another local find for Denise. A couple months ago she noticed that China Express Restaurant had taken up residence in the old location of the by-then-defunct Euphoria Smoothies and said that some Asian folks were eating in there. I remember her saying that but for some reason it didn’t register in my consciousness that this could be the first solid Chinese place in Clinton, so we didn’t go until recently after being reminded of its existence by a friend from church (thanks, James!). Maybe the name made me dismiss it right off the bat, but whatever the reasoning at the time I was sorely mistaken. Oh, China Express… please forgive me for neglecting you. I prone myself before you both begging for mercy and basking in your magnificence, for you are truly a marvelous restaurant–to my knowledge the first and only authentic Chinese restaurant in Clinton.
Upon walking in you see the menu hanging over the counter where you place your order. They have a number of pre-cooked dishes that you can select from–2 items plus white rice or 1 item plus fried rice for $4.99, which is quite a good value. The homeland meat pie sounds intriguing but they don’t make these right now because the pies are labor intensive and business has picked up since the slow summer months. My guess is this is due to the return of Chinese students at Mississippi College, as evidenced by the young Chinese people who are always eating at this restaurant whenever we go there.
The first time we went it was pretty late at night so a few of the dishes were low or completely gone by then. You can choose from 12 dishes with a variety of ingredients and preparations (not all chicken dishes like at some buffets), for example shrimp fried rice, cumin chicken, braised pork, etc. The braised pork, which we were told is a very popular dish, was sold out so we didn’t even get a look at it, but it certainly sounded interesting so we filed it away for another time.
Oh ho ho… what’s all this then? A Chinese menu! Embarrassingly for someone who is ethnic Chinese, I can’t read a lick of it so I had to get the lady behind the counter to talk me through it a bit. The language barrier was strong though, so after a while I just asked for suggestions.
After our first meal I sent the picture to my mom who translated it for us. Thanks mom! There are some misses in there probably due to misreading of handwriting, and some of the translations aren’t very descriptive, but for the most part it gave us the info we needed to make informed decisions the next times we went. Do what we do–double-check the translation with the person taking your order–and you should be golden.
- Cumin chicken
- Stir-fried shredded pork (slightly spicy)
- Stir-fried sliced pork
- Shredded meat and vegetables
- Mixed seafood (the employee told us this is actually julienned potatoes)
- Eggplant and sliced pork
- Eggplant and shrimp
- Chicken something-or-another
- Salted chicken
- Boiled sliced meat
- Boiled fish (this could be a steamed whole fish, just looking at the higher price compared to others)
- Sweet & sour fish
- Soy-simmered meat (braised pork)
- Soy-simmered fish
- Shrimp dish
- Stir-fried shrimp
- Pressed bean curd and shredded meat
- Spicy pork belly (tripe, spicy)
- Stir-fried egg and tomato
- Pickled cucumber
- Shredded potato
- Noodle dish
- Mushrooms and green vegetables
- Spicy bean curd (ma po to fu)
- Dry-cooked string beans (spicy)
- Mushrooms and shredded chicken
The lady helping us said that they’re working on an English menu, so this translation might have a short shelf-life of usefulness, but if it helps even 1 person place an order I’ll be satisfied.
Here’s what we ended up with on our first visit based on recommendations:
Item #3 in the right column of the menu: pork, bean curd, and green onions cooked together in a light sauce. This was a tasty dish where the pork and bean curd flavors came through over the light sauce flavor.
Item #2 in right column. Denise was surprised by the inclusion of cucumbers in a hot dish, but I think the combination of ingredients works well–another delicious dish that I would rank above the pork dish.
This is on the menu board over the counter, not on the paper menu, and I picked it myself being a dumpling fiend. The dumplings were decent, although I’m spoiled by Denise’s so I can’t say that they were great. For somebody without access to the finest dumplings around I think it’s safe to bump these up from “decent” to “good”. They brought out 2 different sauce mixes. I preferred the one with chopped green onions in it as pictured in the lower left of the photo above.
So we had some great food on our first visit, and the authenticity of the dishes was hard to miss. Dumplings aside, these are not the kind of dishes you see at your typical American Chinese buffet type joint. We enjoyed it so much we were back 2 days later!
On our second visit we used the translation and made all of our own choices. We wanted to get braised pork, but that day their credit card station connection was down so they didn’t bother to do any of the pre-cooked dishes for the day anticipating lower traffic, and since the braised pork takes an hour and a half to cook we couldn’t order it. Bummer. Here’s what we ended up with instead:
If all you’ve ever had is sweet and sour chicken or pork from an American Chinese place, forget everything you know about sweet and sour. As you can see the sauce here isn’t fluorescent orange and fittingly both the sweet and sour flavors are also more subtle. You get a bit of slightly crunchy batter on the outside of the fish with flaky white fish underneath. Good stuff.
This one was a bit of a surprise. “Pork belly” here is actually tripe. Denise gamely ate some and I think she actually enjoyed it, although she noted that the innards-ish flavor got stronger when we ate the leftovers. If you like tripe this is worth a shot, otherwise the texture and flavor might throw you off.
The noodle dish was served with the sauce and ground meat mixture on top, leaving it up to us to mix it together. The flavor profile here was unfamiliar for me so it wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how others would enjoy it. I believe this is their only noodle dish, which is too bad.
The ma po to fu was, as expected, tofu and ground beef in a spicy sauce. As a fan of spicy foods I thought I’d enjoy this more, but there was a strong flavor I wasn’t expecting that tasted to me like pine would taste (imagining the flavor of pine based on the smell). I think I’ve identified that the flavor comes from whatever they use to spice up their spicy dishes. It was strongest in the ma po to fu, but it was also present in the spicy tripe and another spicy dish we tried on another visit, so I’m thinking whatever spicy ingredient they use has that unusual-to-me almost pine-like flavor. I’m interested to see what others think about it, but for me it was off-putting simply because it was strange. My bias is showing again.
So the second visit was a mixed bag, not because the food was bad but because the flavors didn’t line up with my preferences. As it happens Denise had been trying to line up a day to meet up with some other friends of ours to eat out together, and we had planned to hit Saigon in Jackson together yesterday but the husband had to work in Clinton so we met up at China Express instead. That makes 3 times in a week that we’ve been to China Express, which is way more than we usually eat out. No complaints here as we enjoyed our previous visits and wanted to try some other dishes, particularly the braised pork that had so far eluded us.
We ordered 5 dishes. 2 of them we had ordered before–sweet and sour fish; and the shrimp dish with cucumbers, eggs, and wood ears–while the other 3 were new:
Item #2 in the left column. It has pork, bell peppers, carrots, and Chinese mushrooms (shiitake, if you must). Wonderful dish. Only slightly spicy with a sweet flavored brown sauce. This was a huge hit and the only dish that we finished at the restaurant.
Finally we manage to hunt down the elusive braised pork, and it lived up to its billing. Simmered slowly for an hour and a half in a soy sauce based sauce, the pork is incredibly tender and flavorful. Imagine a tender pulled-pork type of consistency but with a soy sauce flavor. Those 3 round objects on the side and back are hard-boiled eggs also cooked in the same sauce and also very tasty. Denise has already vowed to never eat there late at night ever again, making sure we’re there early enough to always score some braised pork. Looks like we’ve found our favorite dish there. Really, this dish alone is worth the trip. Don’t miss it when you go.
Not pictured is the 3rd new dish we tried, which was dry-cooked string beans. The dish was placed all the way across the table and I was already entrenched in my eating foxhole so I was loathe to get up, and I didn’t want to be too weird and get up to go all the way to the other end of the table to take photos of food. Just imagine some wrinkled up string beans with some red spicy dots on them and you know what it looks like. Good string beans, although I’ve had tastier elsewhere.
Make no mistake: this is not a fine dining experience. Although the location is nice enough–basically across Clinton Parkway from Mississippi College sharing a parking lot with Shipley Donuts and close to Zaxby’s, Cellular South (oh excuse me… “C Spire”), and Kroger–the experience is very hole-in-the-wall. The dishes came on actual plates, but we were served rice in takeout styrofoam containers and given small styrofoam bowls and plastic utensils with which to eat. We didn’t mind it at all, but I’m putting it out there just to warn people in case atmosphere matters to you.
Having mentioned that caveat I can confidently say that this restaurant is right up there with Mr. Chen’s and the new Ding How (not to be confused with the old buffet Ding How) in terms of serving high-quality authentic Chinese food. It’s telling that none of the aforementioned restaurants have buffets (although China Express does have those pre-cooked dishes), which immediately sets them apart from other Chinese joints in town and their food then confirms that they’re all a cut above the rest. China Express is worth a trip from Jackson especially for that killer braised pork, and if you live in Clinton you have absolutely no excuse not to try it if you like Chinese food. If you’re accustomed to American Chinese the flavors presented here might be a bit unusual, but I think the vast majority of American Chinese fans would be able to transition seamlessly to this authentic version if they gave it a try. Even if you don’t like American Chinese, the flavors here are also different enough (in a good way) that you might be swayed to liking authentic Chinese instead. Everybody should give China Express a shot.
Clinton, that bastion of Newks and Mazzios regulars, now has both authentic Mexican and authentic Chinese. China Express is really amazing, and just like for Burrito Mexpress I dearly hope the word gets out and Clintonians break away from their food ruts to work these restaurants serving authentic cuisines into their rotation.
China Express Restaurant
At the old Euphoria Smoothies shop near Shipley Donuts near Kroger, on the corner of Highway 80 and Clinton Parkway, across from Mississippi College. Don’t confuse it with the other Chinese restaurant near UPS and Blockbuster.
(Sorry, didn’t get their address, phone number or hours. Will work on that next time.)