This Northwest Side eatery is dishing up some of the best Chinese food in the city

Excitement and comfort don’t seem like compatible partners, but both can be therapeutic for shut-ins during a pandemic. And both coexist marvelously in the spicy, house-made noodle dishes prepared at Jiu Thai Asian Cafe.

The first important thing to know about Jiu Thai Asian Cafe is that the “Thai” in its title doesn’t reference Thailand, but rather the Tai mountain range in China. The most important thing to know about Jiu Thai is that you’d be hard pressed to find a better Chinese restaurant in Columbus.

Separating itself from a slew of eateries showcasing pseudo-Chinese stir fries and from other mom-and-pop shops specializing in real-deal regional Chinese cuisines, Jiu Thai’s boldly flavored food is sold at economical prices in an upbeat setting with rapid service and a beer-and-wine license. As I recently discovered, the place’s strengths translate well to the current dine-in-prohibited business model.

Customers who order and pay online can phone upon arrival and enjoy curbside delivery from a server wearing a face mask. Customers entering the restaurant to pick up orders placed over the phone can enjoy watching a chef (in a mask, like everyone on staff) deftly stretch fresh dough into house-made noodles and dumpling wrappers. Everyone can expect their food, much of which will be packaged in foil-lined foam boxes, to be ready in a relative flash — maybe 10 minutes.

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Listed under “Traditional BBQ,” Jiu Thai’s four-bite kebabs are a steal. Meat fans should target the lamb and chicken varieties ($1.25 per skewer, with a two-skewer minimum) dusted in a spicy-and-sweet barbecue rub.

Offering uncommonly supple exteriors that lead to flavorful and juicy fillings, the Steamed Dumplings — which are entirely made from scratch unlike most in town — are a bargain, too (15 for $8.95). Served with a soy-and-black-vinegar dipping sauce, both the crowd-pleasing pork with pickled cabbage dumplings and the earthier lamb and onion dumplings are wonderful.

The accurately titled Delicious Pork Sandwich might present the best sandwich deal in town ($3.95). Resembling a stuffed pita pocket, it’s a nifty house-made sesame pancake split and filled with five-spice-scented pork garnished with lettuce and sesame seeds (expect sesame seeds on most dishes). This minor masterpiece derives from a street-food snack created in Xi’an, a Chinese city with a sizable Muslim population.

The same city’s vaunted cuisine inspires several delicious items, such as the Xi’an Steamed Cold Noodles ($8.95). Characteristically for Jiu Thai, this refreshing noodle salad with bean sprouts is a cilantro-sprinkled flavor bomb that detonates soothing, fat ribbons of house noodles with chilies, vinegar and garlic. Firm grated tubers function like wispy noodles in the similarly prepared but even more incendiary Spicy Potato Salad ($5.95).

For a cold dish that isn't spicy-hot, the Cucumber Salad ($5.95) is hard to beat. The deceptively simple composition utilizing sesame oil, cilantro and enough garlic to ward off an army of vampires teases out the fruitiness of hefty cucumber segments.

Although smoke-scented and seemingly combustible, the fiery Biang Biang Noodles ($9.95) aren’t named for explosions, but purportedly for the sound they make when they’re formed by slapping dough on a table. Wide, comforting house noodles are loaded with chili oil and garnished with beef strips that receive high notes from cilantro, bean sprouts and livening black vinegar presented in a plastic condiment container (use it all).

The Bigguy Hand Stretch Noodle ($9.95) is a delectable and hearty soup that could make a big guy happy. After transferring the lovely noodles, slabs of roast pork and aromatic vegetables from their box into your own receptacle (a big mixing bowl works) pour over the light and lively — not fiery — broth packed in a plastic soup container. Now slurp up a meal that’s comforting but also a little exciting.