Tag Archives: Korean

No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

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Disney World Asian Food

First, I should note that I was not deliberately seeking out Asian food on my trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I know some of my readers may find it hard to believe, but I would have been perfectly content with Fish and Chips from the UK Pavilion at EPCOT and multiple servings of hash browns at the closest Waffle House (which I, in fact, did do for my first meal).

That said, my siblings were fully invested in tasting this Disney World food bucket list which included a number of Asian items. As I am game for trying any type of food, I happily went along and ended up having enough content for a blog post.

As a caveat, this post is really limited to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I personally avoided Magic Kingdom (which is essentially a larger Disneyland) as much as I could and had no time to eat at Hollywood Studios. So with that noted…

EPCOT

My first day at Walt Disney World this trip was spent entirely at EPCOT, which is also my favorite Disney theme park. I could probably just spend a whole day at the World Showcase part of EPCOT and still not be bored. 

As noted above, for lunch I had actually wanted to go eat fish and chips at the United Kingdom pavilion but my sister vehemently disliked the proposal. We found the French options to be fairly pricey so we scooted along to Morocco. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Moroccan food we ended up compromising by eating at Japan pavilion’s Katsura Grill.

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Katsura Grill is Japan pavilion’s fast casual eatery with a number of items including bento boxes, ramen, udon, sushi rolls, and appetizers. My sister ordered a bento box while I decided to go with the ramen. I got the Spicy Seafood Ramen which was served with a lightly spicy seafood broth. The shrimp were cooked decently, though I didn’t taste that much garlic while the broth was a bit lighter than I hoped for. The ramen noodles were cooked decently but all in all the dish could be described as solidly average. I did try some of my sister’s Chicken Teriyaki Bento which was pretty decent with chicken that was cooked well and had a good amount of sauce without overpowering the chicken. All in all Katsura Grill was basically a Disney-fied version of mall food court Japanese food.

After lunch we strolled along to the other pavilions, stopping to get our EPCOT passports stamped at the US, Italy, and Germany pavilions before swinging by the China pavilion. We took a small break by the koi ponds at the China pavilion where I took the opportunity to go to Joy of Tea, the drink stand of the pavilion. Over there they had a Lychee Iced Tea that was super refreshing and perfectly sweetened with lychee syrup. I would highly recommend buying a cup of the tea for a nice stroll around EPCOT on a hot, sunny day. Honestly, the tea tasted as good as some of my favorite bubble tea places and I’m glad my sister-in-law found the place.

Animal Kingdom

After our first day of food at EPCOT my sister and sister-in-law texted me that they wanted to try a couple items the next day at Animal Kingdom. After doing some quick research I found out that both of those items could be found at Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom’s Asia area full service sit down restaurant. I quickly made a reservation for 5 for 2PM on Disney World’s app, which allowed my sister and I to wait and take a ride at Pandora’s Flight of Passage.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation but nonetheless was seated in about 15-20 minutes. The decor is what I would describe as a fascinating “attempt” at something Nepalese or Bhutanese but with some Southeast Asian motifs. That aside, we settled into our rather large table and ordered the following:

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

  • Ahi Tuna Nachos – My sister-in-law’s pick was a heaping mound of nachos with marinated ahi tuna and some Asian style slaw. While it might have been a shareable “meant for 2” it certainly fed a lot more. I personally don’t like tuna very much but I did enjoy the dish and I found the crunchiness of both the nacho chips and the lettuce greens to work very well with the wasabi aioli. I would definitely order again
  • Dim Sum Basket – The dim sum basket had a couple of each item, some were hit and some were miss. The hits included the cha siu bao and the pork potstickers, both steamed really well with flavorful fillings. The shrimp dumplings and siu mai were a bit of a miss though and didn’t come near decent quality for them, even if I did admire their attempts at a thin dumpling skin.
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Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Dim Sum Basket at Yak & Yeti

  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs – We added an additional half order of the ribs and the regular rib order was definitely large enough for 2 people. The ribs themselves were pretty good, with meat falling off the bone and a sauce that combined traditional barbecue sauce elements with a hint of gochujang (a Korean hot sauce). The shoestring fries were perfect and the slaw helped cut a bit of the richness of the meat. Like the nachos, I would order these again.
  • Chicken Fried Rice – The fried rice wasn’t anything to write home about, but was pretty solid and was a nice filler and way to sop some of the sauce in the nachos and ribs.
  • Garlic Noodles – The garlic noodles were perfectly cooked with a decent amount of sauce, though could have used a little more garlic. We honestly ordered this as a cheaper filler item instead any of the lo mein options and while this was fine, an order of lo mein probably would have been better.

Honestly the portions of food at Yak & Yeti are such that we could have done without one of the side items and still been pretty full. The food here was definitely better than EPCOT and a lot more innovative too. I almost went back to Pandora to take a bite of pineapple lumpia but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed after lunch.

All in all, the Asian food in Disney World is solid, if not spectacular. That said, very few people, including myself, really go to a Disney theme park for the food. But there’s enough quality food items at Disney World to also make some of the meals memorable, in addition to the rides and the overall ambience. That said, Disney could learn a lot from the kitchens at Universal’s Harry Potter worlds in terms of making food that is remarkably tasty but also reasonably priced. Hopefully with Disney’s theme park expansions, even better and more innovative food will be coming to a Star Wars or Toy Story land near you.

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Chinese and Korean in Manchester

Manchester, UK isn’t exactly known for its Asian food. While it’s certainly a big city, the history and culture of Mancheste makes it far less of a cultural melting pot than London. And although it definitely has a history of Asian, mainly Chinese, immigrants in the city, even its historic Chinatown can be described as no bigger than DC’s often derided “China Block.” But even at 2 blocks, Manchester’s Chinatown is still considered the 2nd largest in the UK and 3rd largest in Europe.

Given all of this, to say that Asian food isn’t ubiquitous and containing tons of variety is an understatement. That said, a cursory Yelp search and google research while I was in central Manchester did reveal that Korean food was a growing trend in the city. So after browsing through the local Waterstones (the UK version of Barnes and Noble, essentially), I made my way down a couple blocks to Koreana, supposedly the best or one of the best Korean restaurants in town.

Koreana
40A King St W
Manchester M3 2WY, UK

At 8PM on a weekday I got seated fairly quickly, although the restaurant definitely was pretty packed. While there weren’t any grill tables, there was a grill area next to the kitchen where it looks like the restaurant does the grilling for its Korean BBQ entrees. The menu itself is standard pan-Korean fare for the most part, with a section of Korean BBQ, section of bi bim bap, section of soups and stews.

I decided to get one of the set dinners because I could try out a BBQ item and an appetizer of my choice. I chose bulgogi and mandoo and for my choices and eagerly awaited my food.

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Bulgogi at Koreana

The bulgogi came and it was decent. I do wish there was a little bit more marinade and they grilled it more tender and medium/medium rare as opposed to well done, but it certainly wasn’t bad – just not great. The mandoo came out next and these were absolutely wonderful. The dumpling skin was light yet nicely crispy and the pork filling was very juicy. Honestly I could have had twice the amount of Mandoo (and there were already 5-6!). But the biggest disappointment of all was the banchan, which was a single small dish of kimchi. It tasted okay, but what I really was disappointed by was the lack of variety. I could even get more at Korean places in Albuquerque! Though, I suppose it’s a little unfair to compare the Korean food in Korean ex-pat communities of the US, where there are a lot of Koreans, to burgeoning communities in the UK.

Yang Sing
34 Princess Street
Manchester M1 4JY, UK

The following day my friend and I went to Yang Sing in Manchester Chinatown, purportedly one of the best places to get dim sum in Manchester. We arrived a little after opening around 11AM and instantly got a seat (though it wouldn’t be a problem regardless of time we came on a Thursday).

As is the wont of my friends whenever I take them to dim sum, I instantly became in charge of ordering so I decided to get the following items which I felt would get the best mix of items to determine the quality of the place:

  • Shredded duck & root vegetable spring rolls (鴨絲炸春卷) – While the filling was okay, what turned me off was the egg roll wrapping. Instead of something light and thin to contain the items, it was this round, thick fried dough that was way too thick and crispy.
  • Steamed mini belly ribs in garlic & blackbean sauce (豉汁蒸肉排) – While the meat was tender and there was enough black bean and pepper slices to give the dish its signature savory and spicy flavor, unfortunately most of the pieces were a bit fatty and the sauce was a little too oily. Not bad, but not great either.
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Steamed flower dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Steamed flower dumplings with a mixed funghi & root vegetable filling (竹笙花素餃) – This was the best dim sum item and I loved the funghi and root vegetable filling. The wrappers were decently chewy, not too thick, and not too soggy. Definitely would order again.
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Steamed Prawn Dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Har Kau – Steamed prawn dumplings (冬筍蝦餃皇) – In contrast, the dumpling skins on these har gow were a bit of a disaster, probably owing to too much water content in the rice flour dough. It fell apart really easily in a mushy/sticky manner. The shrimp itself was fairly fresh with a little bamboo shoot for crunch but that along could not make up for the disastrous dumpling skins.
  • Steamed sticky rice with shredded duck, pork & shiitake mushrooms wrapped in fragrant lotus leaf (蛋黃迷你珍珠雞) – The sticky rice was good, however, and despite the misleading chinese name, there was actual duck which was fairly tender and flavorful. Worse comes to worse, this generally fail safe item helped fill up the meal rather nicely.
  • Cantonese steamed sponge cake (麒麟馬拉糕) – For dessert we had the sponge cake which was not too sweet and not too dense. Minor quibble in that it could have been lighter overall, but certainly a nice dessert to complete the meal.

All in all, the Asian food I had in Manchester does get a solid A for effort, but a C for execution. I certainly do see promise in these restaurants and their kitchens and they are definitely decent enough for East Asians hankering for a taste of familiar cuisine. However, it’s still got a ways to go before it matches London or even many mid-sized cities in the US.

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Sinoinsocal? But You’re in NorCal…

Whenever I talk to someone about this blog, sometimes I’m asked why it’s called sinoinsocal. I mean, sure, I am Chinese but I certainly don’t live in Southern California. So what gives with this sort-of odd name?

Well let’s back track all the way back to 2011, a year and a half before I published my first post. As some of my readers know (and as it is outlined on my “about” page), my blog is dedicated in honor of my mom and it was in the fall of 2011 that my mom had a couple of severe strokes that precipitated to her passing in 2012. Because of her strokes, I immediately moved from Baltimore back to Southern California.

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

More specifically, I moved back to Irvine, where I graduated from college a couple years prior. It was during my time in college that I ate around Orange County amazingly diverse and large Asian communities. Whether it was some of the best pho I’ve ever had in Little Saigon or the most delicious bowls of beef noodle soup in Irvine’s various Taiwanese restaurants, eating Asian food in Orange County was such a delight.

But of course, most people’s vision of Orange County is something akin to what they have seen in the hit mid-2000s show “The OC” or the original version of The Real Housewives series set in the gated community of Coto de Caza. That is to say, the popular image is of rich white people with sun kissed skin, money for everything they want, and lots of time spent frolicking on the beach or shopping at high end malls. And while this kind of life is definitely representative of parts of Orange County, it’s really just a small portion of what, in reality, is one of the most diverse counties in the United States.

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Orange County is home of the largest Vietnamese community in the United States with nearly 190,000 Vietnamese residents. You can see the large Vietnamese presence when you drive on streets like Bolsa and Brookhurst where strip mall after strip mall are filled with Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Right next door is Garden Grove, with a large Korean community and some of the best Korean BBQ in Southern California. And just 15-20 minutes down the 405 or 5 (without traffic) is Irvine, where a huge Taiwanese community means there are multiple great places to get everything from Taiwanese fried chicken cutlets to bowls of lu rou fan. This doesn’t even include the large Persian and Latino communities in the county too.

So when I moved back to Southern California in the fall of 2011 to be closer to my mom, I wanted to showcase another side of Orange County, one filled with bowls of tasty pho instead of fake tans. Unfortunately, an opportunity to work a campaign for a now wonderful Congresswoman (and one of my best bosses ever) and my mom’s cardiac arrest and eventual passing meant I wouldn’t write a blog post until I lived in Denver.

Though with all those twists and turns (and 2 more moves later), I still think that more people should know about the wonderful Asian food that dots Orange County. Thankfully, a few other food writers with a more national audience has done that too. So before you head to Disneyland on your next trip, be sure to check out David Chan’s article and guide to Chinese food in Irvine or the Orange County Register’s guide to Little Saigon.

And if you want to know what are some of my favorite places in Orange County, here are a few below:

  • Broddard Restaurant – Great Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon
  • Cham Sut Gol – Wonderful Korean BBQ in Garden Grove
  • J Zhou Oriental Cuisine – The best dim sum in Orange County, almost rivaling those in the San Gabriel Valley
  • Pho Nguyen Hue – Some of the best chicken pho I’ve ever had
  • Yu’s Kitchen – Solid Taiwanese fair in Irvine
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Dae Gee, Denver

Dae Gee
826 Colorado Blvd
Denver, CO 80206

When one wants to eat Korean food in Denver, one normally has to drive out to the suburbs to either Aurora or Westminster. Unfortunately for those who live in and around central Denver, that can be a hassle. Luckily, Dae Gee, which has its original location in Westminster, has brought the flavors of Korean food to Congress Park for the urbane folks inside city/county limits.

Since I happened to go to Denver for a conference a couple weeks ago, I got the chance to take a dinner break at Dae Gee’s Congress Park location before I headed back to Albuquerque. I took a friend along with me as well, who also happened to be a regular diner at this location.

The restaurant was pretty busy that night, but we were able to be seated immediately. We took a look at the menu, though my friend already knew what to order given his love of the restaurant’s mandu (Korean style dumplings). I debated over several items, like the Soon Doubu (Tofu Stew) and Galbi Tang (Beef Rib Noodle Soup) but opted instead for their bulgogi. After a little bit of waiting, the food came out piping hot and here were the results:

Mandu at Dae Gee

Mandu at Dae Gee

  • Mandu – These were indeed pretty good. Unlike most mandu I’ve had in the past, these were folded like Chinese potstickers or Japanese gyoza and stuffed with a delicious chicken filling. They were also friend perfectly with a nicely flavored soy sauce to dip in. I could see why my friend loved them!
Bulgogi & Banchan at Dae Gee

Bulgogi & Banchan at Dae Gee

  • Bulgogi – For the most part, the beef was marinated, seasoned, and grilled well. It came with slivers of some diced grilled vegetables which added nicely to the flavor. The lettuce and Korean style coleslaw to wrap the bulgogi in balanced the fattiness of the meat perfectly with the cut of vinegar from the coleslaw. However, some of the meat did not get much of the marinade and came out a little bland.
  • Banchan – The side dishes we had included Korean potato salad (which was okay since I don’t really like it much anyway); nappa cabbage and cucumber kimchi which was nice and refreshing though could have been slightly spicier; fried and baked fish cakes which were both really good and had nice textures; as well as steamed broccoli and mung bean sprouts.

All in all it was pretty good, albeit I wish they had an all you can eat barbecue option. They have that for their Westminster location, but are still waiting their permit by the City/County of Denver for this location. Service was pleasant and very nice despite the crowd in the restaurant that night.

So if you want to have a spectrum of authentic Korean dishes in Denver without having to traverse dozens of miles to Westminter or Aurora, pig out (as they say on the website) at Dae Gee.

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Asian Food In American Politics

When you walk up the stairs to the second floor dining room of the Hunan Dynasty restaurant in Washington DC, you will pass by a set of signed photos adorning the wall. No, these aren’t the actors and celebrities you might find at various longstanding and tired restaurants in New York or Los Angeles. These are, in a rather Washingtonian fashion, signed photos of various political figures in the United States, from both parties, including former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Now, it’s not the food that draws these throngs of politicians (the food is rather mediocre), but rather it’s their location, just a couple blocks from the Capitol building.

Given its convenient location, Hunan Dynasty has been richly rewarded, especially as members of Congress increasingly are in a cycle of perpetual fundraising. A search on Political Party Time, a website by the Sunlight Foundation to spotlight and create more transparency on Congressional fundraising, shows that Hunan Dynasty has been the location of at least 100 fundraisers since 2006. It’s an equal opportunity, bipartisan host of these prolific fundraisers as well, with events helping candidates across the spectrum, from liberal lion Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to socially conservative and failed Republican candidate for Missouri Senate, former Representative Todd Akin.

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Combo of Dim Sum Plates by pchow98 https://flic.kr/p/8PiMC8

Now, Hunan Dynasty may be the Asian restaurant that has hosted the most number of political fundraisers, but it is certainly not the only restaurant to do so. In New Mexico, StreetFood Asia, a personal favorite restaurant of mine, was host to a fundraiser supporting the Senatorial bid of State Auditor Hector Balderas. In the Bay Area, Congresswoman Judy Chu had a fundraiser at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino, CA, co hosted by a number of Asian American leaders. However, all of these one-off political fundraisers at Asian restaurants pales in comparison the the volume of Asian food present in the events supporting Representative Adam Schiff of California. Schiff’s candidate committee hosts a semi-annual spectacular sushi luncheon, a semi-annual fundraiser featuring Korean barbeque, and even a fundraiser at Lunasia, which is often on lists as one of the top restaurants serving dim sum in Los Angeles. Now I don’t know why Schiff has a prolific number of fundraisers featuring various Asian food, though I suspect his district’s pre-2012 boundaries that included heavily Asian cities like Alhambra and Monterey Park and current district’s large Asian populations in areas like Glendale and Los Angeles’ Thai Town has something to do with it.

While I can only speculate on the reasons why Schiff continually has Asian food fundraisers, the growth of Asian American communities across the United States is increasingly influencing the elections and activities of political leaders across the country. Representative Loretta Sanchez, who represents a heavily Asian and Latino district in central Orange County, has regular visits to her large Vietnamese constituency. Further down in my hometown of San Diego, the competitive election in California’s 52nd Congressional District has brought dueling press conferences and statements by both candidates on who has greater support among the Asian American community in San Diego. However, the candidates aren’t reaching the broader Asian American community just by televised press conferences. In fact, Representative Scott Peters (who, for full disclosure, I support) has been seen campaigning by talking to voters during dim sum at Jasmine Seafood Restaurant and held his AAPI campaign kickoff at Pangea, a Taiwanese bakery in the heart of San Diego’s pan-Asian commercial corridor of Convoy Street.

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

Char Kway Teow at Street Food Asia

In district events at Asian restaurants and other locations that serve Asian food aren’t the sole provenance of West Coast political figures or Democrats, however. This year’s heated race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in suburban DC to replace retiring Representative Frank Wolf is an example on how the large growth of Asian Americans is impacting politics across the country. Recently, NPR aired a story about the growing Asian community in Northern Virginia and how candidates Barbara Comstock and John Foust have purposefully outreached to Asian voters, including dueling Korean language ads. The Washington Post even reports on how Comstock has highlighted her attendance at the Punjabi Mela Festival and how the Republican National Convention hosted an event in support of her at Woo Lae Oak, a popular Korean restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. And Comstock is not the only Republican candidate the party has hosted Asian specific outreach events for. Just this year, the Republican Party has hosted an event at a Filipino restaurant for Ed Gillespie, their candidate for Virginia Senate, as well as an event with former Representative Joseph Cao in a Vietnamese restaurant around New Orleans.

While the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is not homogenous and has a diverse range of political beliefs, immigration status, socio-economic status, and other demographic factors, its growing size means that political candidates from city council to Congress are paying attention.

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Oegadgib, Annandale

Oegadgib
7331 Little River Turnpike
Annandale, VA 22003

For the second trip in a row, my plans to visit Kogiya, the latest Korean BBQ joint in the heavily Korean DC suburb of Annadale, were foiled. However, it worked out in the end as a tip from a friend and last minute organizing meant that my friends could dine with me at my tried and true Korean BBQ staple, Oegadgib. Prices there are reasonable for all you can eat Korean BBQ (at print, I believe it’s still less than $20 a person) and my previous trips provided good service, decent quality meats, and plentiful panchan.

After a friend and I did a small turnaround to find the difficult-to-locate restaurant, we got a table of 6 and waited for my other friends to arrive. After about 5-10 minutes they arrived too and we promptly got to our all you can eat Korean BBQ feast. Since it was a little late, most of us immediately started gorging on food as it arrived. Needless to say, I took only just a couple pictures. Regardless, here are some thoughts on most of the items that came to our table:

AYCE Korean BBQ at Oegadgib

AYCE Korean BBQ at Oegadgib

  • Kimchi – Oegadgib’s rendition is good, if not exactly different from most of its competitors. They did have both a napa cabbage and cucumber kimchi though. While I generally like the napa cabbage kimchi better, I like the cucumber one more at Oegadgib
  • Potato Salad – average, generic Korean potato salad, though I did like that it was mild and not overly acidic
  • Sauteed Spinach – admittedly, it’s just spinach that’s boiled and flavored slightly with a little garlic, but I just love this panchan as it works well to cut the fat of the meat when I eat it with rice
  • Tofu Soup – my friends LOVED the soup, which I can understand. I don’t think I have found another Korean BBQ place serving tofu soup in a pork broth and it’s a nice refreshing soup to balance the heavy meat
  • Steamed Egg – I love the steamed egg and I think it’s one of the best parts of eating at Oegadgib. Rarely have I seen this at other places and I find the steamed egg goes perfectly well with the panchan, meat, and rice around the table
  • Salad Greens With Dressing – along with the slices of pickled daikon, the salad greens (mainly leafy lettuce) works very well with the grilled meats. It dresses with meat with additional flavor and, along with the daikon, cuts the fat of the meat with a refreshing vinegary sour flavor
  • Thinly Sliced Beef Brisket – Now we get to the meat. For the thin beef slices, they were good though could use a little more seasoning
  • Pork Belly – A little leaner than I’m used to, but it was still delicious and worked especially well with the salad and pickled daikon
  • Beef Steak Cubes – Decent meat and worked well with the rice and the spinach. Nice and tender and was really flavored well with the juices of the brisket and pork belly

As for the service, pleasant and efficient, though maybe slightly less attentive than usual. The servers help you cook the meat, without being overbearing (like Honey Pig). The servers refill your panchan quickly as well as any water glasses. They did seem a little taken aback at first when none of us wanted any beverage aside from water, but it turned out fine.

All in all, not the best Korean BBQ I had, but pretty solid and definitely one of the best in the DC area. The great bonus was that I was able to introduce three of my friends to the wonders of Korean BBQ as well. I’m glad all of them seemed to enjoy their first taste of all you can eat meat deliciousness.

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Manna, San Diego

Manna Korean BBQ
4228 Convoy Street R210
San Diego, CA 92111

When I was in Southern California a couple weeks ago to mourn the loss of my cousin, I had the opportunity to go down to San Diego and spend time with good friends. One of those friends had never had Korean barbecue before, much to the amazement of a mutual friend and myself. After several casual chats about going to an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean barbecue place, I finally decided to gather my friends and consume an unhealthy amount of delicious grilled meat.

I had never been to Manna before, but it has be heralded as one of the best Korean restaurants in San Diego, so we had to go there. We went for a Sunday lunch, but luckily just before the crowds started rushing into the restaurant. While the policy of the restaurant is to only seat people when everyone in the party has arrived, the hostess sat my friend (who hadn’t had Korean barbecue before) and I a few minutes before our mutual friend arrived as she sensed the crowds rushing in soon.

Once we sat down, we were given a menu of multiple all-you-can-eat options, some with very fancy and interesting seafood options of up to $40 a person. Since we really only needed a basic, but good, introduction to Korean barbecue for my friend we opted for the cheapest all-you-can-eat option at $20 a person. We then selected our meats: bulgogi (marinated thinly sliced beef), thinly sliced brisket, pork belly, and galbi (marinated beef spareribs).

Manna

As we eagerly anticipated our plates of meat to grill, we were served with complimentary banchan (little snacks). These banchan included sauteed spinach, cucumber kimchi, napa cabbage kimchi, pickled daikon, mung bean noodle salad, potato salad, and marinated beans. Nearly all of the banchan were spectacular, with the mung bean noodle salad and spinach being particular favorites of our group. The salad they gave us was good as well, though may have needed some extra dressing.

After about 10 minutes or so, the meat started to arrive. First came the brisket and pork belly. The brisket was pretty good, and complimented very nicely to the sauce dip we had for it. The pork belly was decent as well, albeit could have used a little more seasoning, even after our group had already seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The bulgogi was wonderful, having a marinade that was succulent without being overwhelming. The galbi was fantastic and flavorful as well, with some parts just falling off the bone after we grilled it. Of course, there was so much meat that a hefty combined effort from the three of us still failed the finish all the meat as we ended with some uncooked bulgogi.

Thankfully, our servers did not judge our failure, but instead were rather pleasant and warm. They regularly filled our water carafes and helpfully turned the meat over the cook faster when we were busy shoveling already done pieces of meat into our mouth. They also pleasantly refilled several banchan plates and were even kind enough to offer a second grill top late in our lunch. Unfortunately, given that we were defeated in our attempt to eat all the meat, we politely declined the new grill top.

All in all, this was one of the best Korean barbecue experiences I have ever had. While it’s not quite the cheapest option around in the highly competitive Korean restaurant scene in Southern California, it is definitely a vanguard of quality for San Diego Korean barbecue joints. My friend had a great first time eating Korean barbecue and I was definitely happy to have taken him here instead of the cheaper places down the street.

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Gaza, West Lafayette

Gaza Korean Grill Restaurant
3457 Bethel Dr.
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Apologies in my lapse in road trip posts, as it has been a crazy month, not only driving cross country but settling back down in Albuquerque. However, we will resume my road trip with Gaza Korean Grill in West Lafayette, IN. (If you did not read my previous DC-Denver/Denver-San Diego road trip article, please see my posts on East Pearl in Rockville, MD and Everyday Noodles in Pittsburgh, PA)

The third leg of my road trip brought me to West Lafayette, IN, where I was staying with a friend for the night. Since my friend had never experienced eating Korean BBQ, but mentioned that there were several good Korean places in town, we decided to go eat at Gaza. Gaza had a bonus in that it was the only place in West Lafayette that had all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ. I didn’t know how much I’d be able to eat that night, but I was groomed to believe that AYCE was the ONLY way to eat Korean BBQ.

We entered the restaurant about 9PM, which was 30 minutes before their closing time though we had thought the restaurant closed at 10PM. The server politely seated us, but definitely rushed to place our order. We ordered the “Unlimited Set A” which came with 2 orders of beef, one order or pork, and one order of chicken. Since they were near closing they ran out of some marinated beef so we substituted with thin beef strips.

Gaza 1

After we ordered, the banchan came to our table, and they were plentiful. The banchan included napa cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, steamed marinated broccoli, potato salad, seaweed salad, marinated beans, and our individual salads with sesame dressing. All of the banchan were pretty good and comparable to what I would find in Southern California.

Gaza 2

The cuts of meat came to our table about 5-10 minutes later, when our grill was heated up and buttered. We first grilled the large piece of galbi and the tiny strips of beef. Both my friend and I agreed that each cut was really good and well seasoned. I almost felt as if I were in Garden Grove. However, the pork and chicken were not as great. The chicken was marinated oddly and neither of us could tell quite what bothered us about the chicken. As to the pork, I liked it but my friend didn’t. However, for full disclosure my friend doesn’t really like pork much to begin with. Despite the pork and chicken dishes being underwhelming, we still had a very flavorful and full meal given that there was plenty of beef and banchan to eat. In fact, we could not finish their first plate of AYCE meat.

In terms of service, the servers and owner were fairly polite though they did seem a bit rushed to also get us eating and out the door. They refilled our waters very promptly, took away plates in a timely mannered, and did a couple of courtesy asks to see how we were doing. They did, however, presented us with the check before we were done eating, but that is partially our fault for coming into the establishment so late.

The killer, however, was the bill. It cost us each around $30, plus tax and tip, which was certainly steep given that some old menus online stated somewhere more around $15/person and I had not been used to paying more than $22/person for AYCE Korean BBQ. I certainly think the experience was still worth it, given the quality of the beef items and the banchan, but it was a sticker shock to both of us young professionals. All in all, it is definitely a nice place to eat good Korean food in West Lafayette, but I would probably stick to ordering a la carte.

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Tong Tong, Colorado Springs

Tong Tong
2036 S. Academy Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80916

On Monday I was driving back from Albuquerque to Denver and craved something to eat for dinner. While I could have waited it out until I got back to Denver around 9PM, I decided to stop in a city I live so close to, but rarely visit: Colorado Springs.

I don’t know anything about the Asian food scene in Colorado Springs, so I called a good friend of mine to find a decent place for more to eat. After 10 minutes of fruitlessly searching for a decent Chinese restaurant, he directed me to Tong Tong which seemed like a good and authentic Korean restaurant. I exited I-25 and went north a couple miles on Academy, arriving at Tong Tong, which is located in an aging strip mall with Big Lots as its biggest draw.

Entering Tong Tong I was greeted warmly and ushered into a booth, the smallest table I could be seated in given the hustle and bustle of the restaurant at the time. I ordered the soondubu and fried mandu, two relatively inexpensive menu items I ate before, giving me a good baseline to judge against Korean restaurants I have eaten in Los Angeles and San Diego.

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The food was good, but not steller. The mandu was decently fried, but the filling was relatively bland. The soondubu had decent flavor, but did not have much seafood in it. They also cooked the egg directly in the stew, which I found a little odd given my experience cracking the egg myself into the stew if I wanted. I loved their selection of banchan, some of which were standard (kimchi), but others that seemed unique and interesting (fried peppers and fish balls). The cinnamon tea at the end, however, was excellent.

Going into service, it was a bit haphazard. The wait staff certainly tried, given that they only had three wait staff for a relatively packed restaurant. However, little things I expected at a Korean restaurant, like banchan being served immediated, were lacking. The banchan arrived at my table well after my mandu. Filling water also took a while, and I was not the only table that wanted a quicker refill. They did try to move as fast as they could, but clearly they could add wait staff.

All in all, the food was decent, especially given my low expectations in Colorado Springs, but the experience was only so-so. It would be a great place for residents in Colorado Springs to discover Korean food, but it certainly isn’t up to the quality of Koreatown or Garden Grove.

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