A new Chinese restaurant recently debuted in the Delmar Loop, serving up cuisine inspired by Tianjin, a major port city in northeastern China. Tasti-Tea opened on March 21, offering jianbing, steamed buns and housemade noodle soups alongside a variety of beverages including milk tea, cheese tea and smoothies.
The concept comes from Lei Qian, a native of Tianjin who came to the St. Louis area in 2005. As a teenager, he helped run an American-Chinese food restaurant, China Star, in St. Charles, Missouri, with his family for around 10 years. After selling the restaurant, he opened Corals & More, an aquarium and fish store.
With Tasti-Tea, Qian returns to his roots with a restaurant highlighting street food and sweet drinks from his hometown. His aunt, Wenhua Qian, serves as the chef, cooking up from-scratch specialties such as Tianjin-style jianbing – a popular savory crêpe-like snacking staple. Wenhua previously owned and operated a restaurant called Asian Snack in Indianapolis and brings her repertoire of authentic recipes to Tasti-Tea.
“I want people to try street food the way it’s prepared in China,” Lei says. “These are the kinds of foods I enjoyed when I was living there.”
Tasti-Tea fills the space previously occupied by Bing Bing, filling the small storefront with modern café decor. Lei imported everything from the tables and chairs to wall decals from China, brightening up the dining room with lush green embellishments.
From the menu, choose from appetizers including sesame balls, spring rolls and salt and pepper chicken. Chef specials include scallion pancakes, Tianjin-style steamed pork buns and the aforementioned jianbing, which utilizes a batter made up of five different ground grains, cooked with eggs and filled with a sheet of housemade crispy fried dough to lend a satisfying crunch to the dish.
Additional highlights include best-selling homestyle soup bowls in options such as beef, meat ball, tofu or wonton. Tasti-Tea also offers housemade flour-based noodles in dishes such as a spicy beef noodle soup with Sichuan-style chili oil. Rotating specials include options such as garlic short ribs.
To develop Tasti-Tea’s drink list, Lei studied in a five-month long beverage program in Tianjin to lean about various styles of bubble tea preparations as well as modern trends. His menu begins with milk tea in flavors such as classic bubble tea, Thai tea and red bean-matcha tea. Dirty Tea, or tea prepared with dark syrup, follows along with cheese tea featuring a salted cheese foam.
Additional offerings include colorful Cloud Smoothies dolloped with foam; Yakult (a sweetened fermented probiotic milk beverage available in a variety of flavors); and fresh fruit drinks such as mango-orange green tea.
Tasti-Tea is currently open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 10pm and Sunday from 11am to 9pm. Hours will tentatively change in upcoming seasons according to demand.
Tasti-Tea, 567A Melville Ave., Delmar Loop, University City, 314.899.9688, facebook.com/tastitea