I never thought that I liked Chinese food. Oh, I can choke down some Beef and Broccoli or Moo Shu Pork when forced to by friends (some friends), but I’ve never really enjoyed or craved the stuff. And don’t even get me started on the canned La Choy “Chicken Chow Mein” that my mom used to make us eat. I still have nightmares about those water chestnuts….
A little over a year ago, though, my perception of Chinese food changed. That’s when I first visited Naisa Pan-Asian Café shortly after it opened in Fountain Square. I’ve been a regular ever since. What keeps me coming back? Three things. The food, the people, and the atmosphere.
First, the food. Every dish is made from scratch and cooked to order. You won’t find any nasty day-old food kept warm under a heat lamp here. And Naisa offers quite a few dishes that you just can’t get at most Chinese places. Their Golden Sunrise, for example, is a combination of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and scallions cooked together in a light sauce and then served in a lidded clay bowl with a side of rice. It is amazing. Seasonal dishes like the Dry Sautéed String Beans with Shrimp really pop, too, although I fear I’ve seen the last of the string beans for this year. If you like the old stand-by dishes, you can get most of them here as well, freshly made and tasty. General Tso’s Chicken, Garlic-Chili Chicken, Spring Rolls, and Seafood Cheese Wontons (Crab Rangoons) are all on the menu and delicious. My personal favorite appetizer is the Vegetable Dumplings. The spinach-infused dough is made fresh in house and then stuffed with a mix of carrots, cabbage, and other veggies. They are great fried, but steamed is good, too, if you’re trying to be healthy.
As for the people, well, they’re just good folks. Christina and her husband Andy are the heart and soul of the place. Christina is almost always out front greeting diners while Andy is usually in the back. They are Fountain Square residents, and Christina is always ready to swap a tale or two. They primarily employee students from Herron School of Art as their servers, which means there’s never a lack of personality from the waiters and waitresses, either. I’ve had quite a few excellent conversations about art history or indie rock while downing a bowl of Wonton Soup.
The atmosphere in the restaurant is stylish and laid back. If you remember the restaurant that occupied the building before, you’ll be shocked to find that the space is completely unrecognizable. Tall, dark, wooden furniture and red/orange walls set the tone, and the stained concrete floor carries the warmth downward. It’s clear that someone spent some time thinking about the overall design up front before a can of paint was opened. You can always count of seeing some interesting art from Herron students too, some from the servers themselves. I think it’s great that Christina gives the students a chance to have their work viewed by the public. In the not-too-distant future, Christina tells me that she has plans to build a raised, wooden area in the front window where diners will be able to sit on the floor while they eat. Sounds cool!
Naisa serves carry-out, but they no longer delivery. If you live reasonably close by and don’t feel like eating in, it is definitely worth it to call in your order and pick it up.
Let me leave you with two words: “bubble” and “tea.” I’ve been trying to convince Christina to serve bubble tea since the first week she opened, but she’s afraid there’s no market for it here in Indy. I recently discovered that there is a bubble tea shop at the Opry Mills Shopping Mall in Nashville, TN. If Nashville can support a bubble tea place, I’m sure we can as well! Once thirsty bikers, runners, and rollerbladers start whizzing by Naisa’s storefront on the Cultural Trail, they’re going to need refreshing beverages. I’m just sayin’.