It looks like a carry-out restaurant and, indeed, you can do that, but the small venue boasts an upscale Asian menu that continues to gain in popularity among those who appreciate a fresh approach to dining.

Located in the Crystal River Shopping Center on U.S. 19, Chopstix Express opened just over two years ago by owners Jie “Jack” and Rachel Lin, formerly of Fort Lauderdale and natives of Canton, China.

Though space is limited, there are comfortable tables and chairs for up to 18 customers for the lunch and dinner menus, plus a new order-online service for those who wish to have their meals hot and ready for pick-up. Or, you can order by phone.

And make no mistake, all the popular and creative newer dishes are available, such as the tempting plate of fresh, large shrimp sautéed with onions and simmered in a rich butter sauce, available by request.

Lin is ready to execute any special customer request, he said, though that doesn’t happen often given the extensive choices already on the menu.

“But we do whatever customers wish,” Rachel Linn noted, “a lady recently asked for a nontraditional chicken and mixed vegetables in black bean sauce. It’s not on the menu, but we made it for her and she was happy.”

The Lins agreed that by far the most popular item is the General Tso’s Chicken, tender chunks of white meat chicken marinated in a red sauce. Spicy Szechuan-style meals of beef, pork and chicken are also a hit with patrons, as well as Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

Add old favorites such as pork or chicken Egg Foo Young, Coconut Shrimp and, of course, the Happy Family of chicken, shrimp, scallops with Chinese vegetables in the chef’s special brown sauce — always hits.

For those who wish to upscale their dinners, consider Jack’s Special Walnut or Pecan Shrimp ($15.95) and Lemon Chicken ($8.95) — both personal favorites of this writer, and totally worth the splurge. And there are Clams with Black Bean Sauce, Peking Pork Chops and Orange Pork Chops (favorites of Chinese patrons), Orange Duck and Filet Steak ala Oriental ($14.95), just to name a few.

Savory Peking Duck, described as: “young seaside duckling slowly grilled over an open fire until the skin is crisp and golden, served with spring onion and brown sauce is a very special treat available with 24-hour advance notice.”

The traditional and much-loved hot and sour, egg drop and wonton soups can start your meals, along with crisp spring and egg rolls. Other appetizers are fantail shrimp, steamed or fried dumplings and Chinese-style chicken wings, all under $6. A Pu Pu Tray for two with egg roll, fantail shrimp, Krab Rangoon, chicken wing, barbecue ribs and teriyaki beef is $13.95.

The Chopstix Express wings are as good as they get anywhere, both regular and spicy styles, large and meaty and deep fried to perfection and served with dipping sauce.

There is a less expensive luncheon menu until 3 p.m., a family-style menu, weight watcher specials, children’s platter and combination meals.

Lin is no stranger to the cuisine of his Chinese homeland, where he began his culinary career at the age of 14.

The Lins first emigrated to New York City from China and then moved south, opening restaurants in Miami and later, Fort Lauderdale, before starting a business in Crystal River, a little more than two years ago.

Rachel Lin was a nurse in Canton after studying the profession in her home city, and Jack Linn earned a teaching degree before moving to the United States.

The Lins have three children: Ashley, a student at the University of Miami Medical School, Alfred, who works in a hospital in Orlando and studied biology at New York University, and Austin, a student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Acknowledging that home delivery service in the area is mostly limited to pizza, pasta and sandwiches, the owners of Chopstix indicated that the possibility of delivery in the Crystal River area is in the works.

The couple is a hospitable duo who truly enjoy their work and customers, and always go the extra steps to ensure a memorable dining experience.

Tastes of Canton, China, are just a phone call or online order away at Chopstix Express, 1613 SE U.S. 19 in the Crystal River (Winn-Dixie) Shopping Center. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. Closed on Mondays.

Call 352-228-8808 for information and carry-out orders. Fax 352-228-8806. Major credit cards accepted.

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