Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: TNR Café

For its name – Tea, Noodle, Rice Café – TNR offers diners a reliably good deal, with plenty of noodle and rice for the buck.spotlight_alt

For its name – Tea, Noodle, Rice Café – TNR offers diners a reliably good deal, with plenty of noodle and rice for the buck. At first glance, there isn’t much that distinguishes this snug, little space and simple furnishings from other joints surrounding the Court House Metro stop on the Orange line. TNR, however, is one of the community’s best bets for affordable, heaping plates of familiar Asian dishes.

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TNR Café. (Photo: News-Press)

Prices and portions factor heavily in this recommendation. Patrons can enjoy a crunchy vegetable or beef egg roll ($1.25), a cup of hot and sour soup ($1.50) and a large helping of vegetable fried rice ($7.95 for the dinner portion), and escape with paying less than $11.

It’s no exaggeration to call the portions heaping; it may be better to call them overly generous. A dinner dish is easily split between two diners, so double the egg roll and soups, and a couple can bet on spending no more than $20. That’s with some soothing Jasmine tea for two as well.

The food is appetizing and not greasy. Nothing struck me as overly cooked. Although a personal go-to protein dish, the spicy ma po tofu ($7.95) came off as edible, though largely uninspired. The tofu had little dressing, save for some chili flecks in a flat sauce, with peas and carrot slices for some color.

With a menu as broad and varied as TNR’s, it’s forgivable that some dishes are not the restaurant’s forte. After all, a dish called “tofu” doesn’t leave much to the imagination in the first place.

Instead, try some of the dishes that your server recommends. She pointed me to the ginger chicken casserole ($12.95), listed under the “Chef’s Specials.”

Now, being a recalcitrant pescetarian – that’s the new code word for a fish-eater masquerading as a vegetarian – I settled for the ginger shrimp casserole, an extremely satisfying choice. The shrimp were delightfully plump, well cooked and sautéed in a savory mix of ginger, garlic and basil. Again, a dish fit for two, perhaps three.

TNR also delivers to a three-mile radius, and so can provide starving post-college types with easy access to copious bowlfuls of beef lo mein ($8.95). A reliable meat-tester accompanied me to reassure the carnivores among the News-Press’ readership that TNR Café appeals to all tastes. The beef lo mein proved to be very satisfactory.

For the culinary explorer, TNR furnishes an “authentic Chinese cuisine meal” option, too – two meals and a soup for $17.95, three meals and a soup for $22.95 and just $6.95 for each additional meal.

The authentic menu features twists on familiar-sounding dishes, like the kung pao squid, and some adventurous ones such as sautéed beef and bitter melon and seaweed egg drop soup.

As for what puts the “T” in TNR? That would be bubble tea. Bubble tea ($2.95) is made from cold infused black or green tea flavored with tapioca pearls, which themselves are made from sweet potato, cassava root and brown sugar; it’s an atomic slide toward more eccentric tastes.

There are a dozen or so bubble teas to taste at TNR, with flavors ranging from lychee to peppermint cream. Your best bet for a recommendation, which goes the same for anything at TNR, is to ask your cheerfully helpful server.

 

TNR Café

2409 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA

703-875-0428

Hours:

Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Saturday, noon – 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon – 10 p.m.