Last weekend, Melanie and I arrived at the decision to indulge in the national cuisine of the Kingdom of Thailand, which, throughout its history, has been a part of a few different kingdoms. Thai food is a harmonious fusion of cultural influences, woven with the culinary fabric of neighboring countries, primarily India and China. The British Empire, too, made a substantial impact upon Thailand as the twentieth century approached. Since then, significant Westernization has resulted in Thai’s immense popularity in the United States.
Here in Dubuque, whenever we’re out and about and conversation turns to restaurants, inevitably someone will mention Thai food. Every time this occurs, the topic immediately transitions into Lina’s Thai Bistro. Lina’s is owned and managed by Lina Qiu and her husband, Gordon Gao. Lina has rich experience in Asian restaurant management from her years in Chicago’s Chinatown, while Gordon attended restaurant management school in Switzerland and worked in restaurants in Los Angeles and Davenport before becoming co-owner of Tantra Thai Bistro in Dubuque in 2011. Gordon is now the Executive Chef at Lina’s, where he has also cooked and served. Lina’s younger brother, Feng Qiu, is the Sushi Chef.
Lina and Gordon managed to pull it off in a couple of black dots on the road map known as Chicago and L.A., but could they make it in Dubuque? Let’s proceed, shall we…
We were gazing over the menus when we were approached by our server for the evening, Murphy, who greeted us with a big smile. He recommended the Grand Canyon Roll (shrimp tempura, hand-cut cucumber, avocado, cream-cheese topped with tender seared beef) and the Korean Ribs from the Asian Fire Grill selections.
Melanie welcomed Murphy’s recommendation of Korean Ribs with open arms, but I chose a different path. Torn between two attractive items from the Chef’s Special Features, Thai Steamed Grouper and Parang Salmon, I went with the salmon.
Though the inaugural listing in Lina’s menu is “Appetizers,” do not be fooled. Thai cuisine is intended to blend tastes, flavors, and textures into an integrated meal. Thusly, the wait between the arrival of the appetizers and main course is minimal. Before you know it… BOOM! All the dishes are on the table. That’s when you and your fellow dining partners try a little bit of everything, savoring each bite and allowing the art of Thai food to flourish. Another tip my friends: don’t spend too much time looking for the chopsticks. The Thai tradition is to hold your fork in your left hand and gently scoop the selected morsels of food toward your spoon, which is held in your right hand.
Our dinner selections were initially accompanied by a couple of cool beverages: Thai Iced Tea and Thai Tea Lemonade.
Next to arrive was the Shrimp Tom Kha Soup – a coconut broth, fresh spicy herbs, and shrimp. It was joined by Thai Spicy Lettuce Cups, consisting of ground chicken and spicy herbs with hand-squeezed lemon juice as a delicious accent to the flavor.
Thai dishes include unique spices and herbs not used in Chinese or other Asian cuisine. A variety of fish sauces, curries, galangal, lemongrass, sweet basil, lime leaves, cilantro, and garlic in the proper proportions create the balance desired by the chef and adored by the consumer. Chili peppers, orange peppers, and Jalapeños play an important role in the orchestral balance of the “Talk-About Tastes:” salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter.
Lina’s menu is extensive and, just like a trip abroad, offers a sense of adventure in each of its signature dishes. In addition to the Tom Kha Soup, there is Chicken Wanton Soup, Thai Hot and Sour Soup, and Spicy Seafood Soup. A wide variety of salads are available, including Thai Peanut Salad, Sashimi Tuna Salad, Spicy Beef Salad, Mandarin Sesame Salad, Cucumber Seaweed Salad, and Yum Seafood Salad.
Fortune Noodles are a popular Thai culinary treat made from thick-cut, stretched dough. Among those on Lina’s menu are the Spicy Basil Noodles, Pattaya Street Noodles, Drunken Noodle, Glass Noodles, Koi Soi, Pad Thai, Kung Pao Noodles, Pad See Ew, and Stir Fry Udon.
Lina’s offers a wide variety of stir-fries with a little extra spicy Tai-food “kick.” The spicier stir-fries include Kung Pao, Spicy Eggplant, Spicy Basil, Thai Fajitas, Red Hot Szechuan, and Thai Chili Cashew. For less heat, try Black Pepper Garlic, Broccoli Stir, Ginger Scallion, Three Samurai Mushrooms, Wok’s Mixed Green, Sesame Chicken, Sweet and Sour, and Asparagus Shitake. All can be created with chicken, beef pork, tofu, or shrimp, and fried rice or brown rice can be substituted.
Siam curry dishes display the influence of India. They are made from a complex blend of spices, chiefly turmeric and those derived from red peppers. Coconut milk and a combination of various vegetables are used for a delicious sauce-based dish served over rice and a choice of meat, if desired. Curry dishes include yellow, green, Panang, red, and Prik King. These are all denoted by a red pepper icon for their spiciness, however Lina’s also serves a mild Pumpkin Curry.
Wok fried rice can also be customized by your choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or shrimp. Combinations include Spicy Basil Fried Rice, Mango Coconut Fried Rice, Roasted Chili Fried Rice, Combo Fried Rice, Kung Pan Fried Rice, House Fried Rice, Pineapple Fried Rice, Yellow Curry Fried Rice, and Lemongrass Fried Rice.
Entrees from the Asian Fire Grill selection include Crying Tiger Beef, Teriyaki Mango Chicken, Lemongrass Sausage, Thai Pork Chops, and the Korean Ribs – which were amazingly flavorful. Difficulty arises when attempting to decide between these hearty meat-based selections and the seafood dishes, which include salmon, grouper, catfish, prawns, tilapia, shrimp, and combination plates such as Keow Wan Seafood, Sizzling Seafood, and Seafood Basil Noodle. Each combination is a unique blend of spicy basil sauce, mushrooms, peppers, mussels, scallops, onion, lime leaves, rice, and noodles.
Lina’s Signature Sushi Rolls offer a glamorous selection of sushi dishes – cooked, raw, rolls, Sushi Lover’s à la cart, and the Ultimate Sushi Party Boats.
Chef’s Special Features include Grilled Lamb Chop, Thai Bistro Duck, and the Bird’s Nest Stir Fry. The Panang Salmon in mild curry sauce with jasmine rice was absolutely delightful. I know no other way to put it. And as if we weren’t already filled with food, we enjoyed tiramisu and cheesecake with glaze for dessert. We couldn’t help ourselves, and they were delicious!
Dining at Lina’s is to take a memorable journey to another part of the world for a couple of hours. I am willing to guarantee that if you take this journey, you too will find yourself eager to tell someone about it.
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Friday: Lunch 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Dinner: 5:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.
Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Payment options: cash, debit cards, credit cards; no checks accepted
Express lunch and catering available
Gift certificates available