Rainbow Asian Cuisine

 2412 North Roan Street
Johnson City, TN

Don't overlook this ultra-fresh diamond in the rough!

I only had to eat at Rainbow Asian Cuisine once, and I knew I had a new favorite restaurant.

Now let me tell you why it gets 4 stars instead of 5: Location. It’s physically attached and part of a Best Western, and in a location that can be difficult to get in and out of during periods of high traffic volumes. If I completely ignored the location and graded the restaurant on food and the interior’s decor and cleanliness, Rainbow Asian Cuisine would, hands down, get the full five stars.

Just have someone else drive you there while you keep your eyes closed. :)

I recently moved to the tri-cities area from Memphis, which has a plethora of really good Vietnamese restaurants (Pho Saigon, Saigon Le, and Pho Hoa Binh) and Thai restaurants (Bhan Thai, Bangkok Alley, and Jasmine). So I wasn’t expecting the peculiarly named “Rainbow Asian Cuisine”—which serves Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese—to be anywhere on par with these other restaurants.

I was wrong.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

And I am so glad I was wrong.

From the exterior, Rainbow Asian Cuisine doesn’t look like much and doesn’t give you high expectations. It’s physically a part of a Best Western. But once you get inside, the story changes immediately. There’s a soothing wall-based water fountain and pool, a double-sided fireplace is centrally located in the dining area (which wasn’t lit when we went in August, but I bet is fantastic in winter, at night, and for romantic outings), and the decor is tastefully done.

The restaurant is immaculate. That might be because it has only been open for 3 months now, but I suspect the owner (who I talked with for a good 10-15 minutes) also has high standards of quality control and cleanliness. She seemed passionate about her food and restaurant, and it showed in everything I saw and tasted.

I arrived hoping to get some vermicelli. When I asked the waitress for it, she didn’t know what it was and immediately went to go get the owner. The owner talked to us at length about the variety of dishes available (and apologized for not having vermicelli, but recommended the pho as an alternative). She emphasized how everything was fresh and made a point of stating the herbs they used were not only fresh, but they grew and picked their own herbs!!!

My partner and I ordered and shared the spring rolls and lettuce wraps as appetizers. One bite was enough to immediately erase any and all reservations that might have been lingering.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s food is literally so fresh, I think the only fresher things I’ve eaten were picked out of my own garden and put directly into my mouth.

Both the lettuce wraps and the spring rolls beat the pants off of Pho Saigon’s identical menu items—and Pho Saigon has probably been ranked as Best Vietnamese Restaurant in Memphis for over a decade now!

Seriously. That good.

We ordered pho chicken noodle and Thai basil lamb for entrees. Again, Rainbow Asian Cuisine exceeded our expectations. The pho was delicious and slightly more complex (in a good way) than Pho Saigon’s offerings. The basil lamb was even better. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and…. Words just fail me.

I regret not having brought a camera to take a picture of the plate, because the food was beautifully plated. These people care deeply about what they are serving, and they serve it with pride.

Unfortunately, there were not many people in the restaurant while we were there: 1pm-2:30pm. Granted, these are not peak hours, but it seemed like the locals in Johnson City have not figured out what an absolute gem they have hiding nestled up against the side of a Best Western. This makes me concerned that Rainbow Asian Cuisine might not make it because of its location and the locals not wanting “foreign” food. It would be a shame—nay, a crime—if this were to happen.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine seems to be relying on word-of-mouth advertising, which might actually work in a smaller place like Johnson City, TN. As such, if you are reading this and in (or near) Johnson City, consider this my recommendation that you must go to rainbow Asian Cuisine.

Go between 11am-3pm (Mon-Sat) to sample the less-expensive lunch menu. You’ll be back for more. And tell a friend and write a review after you’ve visited.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Without a doubt, these are the best spring rolls I have ever eaten.

The “Fresh” in “Fresh Spring Rolls” ain’t there for show, people. The herbs are indeed fresh. So fresh, in fact, that the only fresher herbs I have had were probably the ones that I picked straight from my own garden and used within the hour.

The owner claims they grow and pick the herbs they use in the restaurant to ensure critical ingredients are as fresh and vibrant as possible. Honestly? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a garden in the kitchen.

For $3.99, the spring rolls may very well be the best value for your money as an appetizer—and quite possibly the best appetizer.

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

There’s no denying that these are fantastic lettuce wraps, and 4 of them could easily make a meal for someone with a small appetite. However, priced at $9.99, it ties as the most expensive appetizer (along with the sampler platter).

All the other appetizers are $4.99 and under, so there are better, less expensive alternatives that might not be as filling. Like, for instance, Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s fresh spring rolls for $3.99. (Yum!)

The price is the only thing keeping me from giving the Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps a full 5 stars. (Maybe at $6.99?)

Thai Basil Lamb

There’s a substantially cheaper ($6.99) Thai Basil (with chicken or pork or beef—but not lamb) on the lunch menu, we wanted the lamb off the dinner menu.

The Thai basil lamb was superb and fully justified the higher price. We could not decide if the lamb was ever-ever-ever-so-slightly overcooked or not, but the vegetables were spot-on perfection. The Thai sauce brought the heat to this dish, but not overwhelmingly so.

To sum it up, my partner and I agreed that, if we were not limited by our stomachs’ capacities, we could sit and eat nothing but this all day long and not get tired of it.

Pho Vietnamese Noodle Soup (chicken)

I was a fan of Pho Saigon’s pho (in Memphis, TN) for over a decade. One bowl of Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho put Pho Saigon into second place.

To put this into perspective, Pho Saigon has probably been ranked the top Vietnamese restaurant in Memphis for over a decade. Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho? Better. So how does a restaurant that’s been open for only 3 months topple a long-standing champion?

Again, it’s the fresh herbs and vegetables that put Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho over the top.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho has a beef broth that is slightly more complex/rich than Pho Saigon’s broth. There’s more rice noodles, meat, and vegetables in Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho. The bowl of pho comes with a side plate containing a bowl of hoisin sauce (for dipping meat in), a bowl of sriracha (“rooster”) sauce, a lime wedge, incredibly fresh sprouts, and a sprig of basil so fresh and large you could probably stick it into the ground, keep it watered, and it’d root and grow a new plant. Pho saigon, in contrast, supplies you with a side plate of not-as-fresh herbs, no hoison sauce, no lime wedge, and the sriracha sauce is in a plastic, sometimes-dirty container on the table that kept me from ever using it.

Although both Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho and Pho Saigon’s pho are superb, Rainbow Asian Cuisine is better because the ingredients are fresher and it’s obvious they just care more about their food and its presentation.

I also think it speaks volumes about the quality of Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho when the only pho I’m able to compare it with comes from a restaurant about 600 miles away from Johnson City, TN!!!

Ginger Salad

Normally I’m not a fan of salads, and Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s wasn’t likely to convert me. It didn’t. I think I was expecting a more traditional Japanese ginger salad, but this dressing wasn’t as vinegary and had a hint of creaminess to it.

It wasn’t a bad ginger salad (like I had at a sushi restaurant a couple weeks before where they’d tried to pass off thousand island as being oriental), and I imagine people who are more enthusiastic about salads would say it was good. But me? I just thought it was a decent salad.

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