Derek Eats Food

Experiences at Lincoln, NE restaurants

Places I've eaten

Bad ideas
I eat it so you don't have to

Shen Cafe

21 Jun 2014

Visited: 29 May 2014


First impressions

Tucked away in the Williamsburg plaza, Shen Cafe doesn’t make itself too noticeable unless you’re looking for it. I found out about the restaurant from Yelp, and since Asian cuisine is very near and dear to my stomach, I wanted to give it a try.

Shen Cafe is a fast casual restaurant, but I didn’t get that immediate impression. It’s tidy, spacious, and has the feel of a modern cafe. I’m actually glad it’s not a typical restaurant. I like being able to order right away, then take a seat while waiting for food.



The menu is different from your typical Chinese food-service-truck takeout joint. I definitely wouldn’t call it traditional authentic, so keep that in mind. They offer about 12 signature dishes and 3 standard bowls, but the menu is described and organized such that it’s easy to navigate. You pick your rice, pick your protein, and then pick the dish they should go together with.

Since I’m a curry lover, I homed right in on their Spiced Curry, which I got with chicken and white rice. I noticed they seem to talk up their tea in their advertisements, so I sprung for a Thai iced tea as well. My dinner companion ordered a teriyaki bowl with chicken and white rice.

After ordering, we grabbed a booth off to the side and got our water in short order. Food came out quick enough, which for me is before I start checking my watch. Dinner is served!



Edit: For some reason, the vegetables in the picture look way less colorful in a web browser than they do if you download the image and view it offline. Go figure.

Presentation is modern but modest, kind of home-cooked looking in a way. Everything’s clean and the food looks tasty, which is good enough for me.

Mmm, as soon as you take the first bite, you can just taste the fresh ingredients. Peppers, onions, carrots, all fresh and not over-cooked, so they add some nice crunchy texture to the dish. Same for the chicken, it was tender and savory. I would have liked a bit more in my curry, though.

The curry plays it pretty safe. Despite having a one out of one pepper rating, I didn’t find it that spicy, and it really doesn’t take any liberties with the standard yellow curry recipe. I can’t really give them any points for creativity, but the fresh ingredients certainly elevate the dish above average. I’d like to try more of their menu.

Rice was a bit on the dry side, but still a good quality grain. Better than average, but not the best. I’d like to visit again to see if I get a fresher batch.

The Thai iced tea - absolutely spectacular. If you have never had Thai iced tea before, do yourself a favor and head over to Shen Cafe as soon as possible and order some. It’s deliciously flavorful and refreshing, with just a bit of richness. It’ll be a new experience for your taste buds, and you won’t regret it. Certainly the best Thai iced tea I’ve had in Lincoln so far.

My dinner companion, while not an established food critic like yours truly, said the teriyaki was the best in Lincoln. Chalk up another recommendation.

I’ve got a new favorite Chinese restaurant. Bet you can’t guess its name. Grade: A-


No complaints on the service, it was friendly and helpful. I got a family-owned-and-operated vibe, which always makes me like a restaurant a little bit more. Shen Cafe also seemed intensely clean and well-kept while I was there, so points for that.

I got the sense that the cafe is somewhere halfway between a cafe where you can hang out awhile and a fast casual restaurant. While we were there, the restaurant was mostly patronized by families, so I don’t think I’d ever go there to get my cafe on. I definitely wouldn’t count a couple of screaming children against the restaurant, but it was a negative on the experience.

Ooh, here’s an idea: Asian tea/coffeehouse. If I could get a Thai iced tea or boba tea in a place with the atmosphere of The Mill or The Coffeehouse, I’d be all over that.

This strikes me as another Lincoln gem that nails it on food and nails it on price, but is still relatively unknown. I can’t say for sure how this happens. My theory is location, location, location, and maybe a little marketing too.

Next time you’re in the mood for some Chinese that caters to the American palate, plot a course to Shen Cafe. Grade: A-


Entrees $6-8. Sides available, not sure on price. Drinks $2-3.

Scores are not necessarily precise, but relative to restaurants in recent memory. I plan to rebalance my scores as I review more restaurants.