Category Archives: Asian

Westgate Thai

Cuisine: Thai

3201 Sullivant Ave., Columbus OH
614.458.1165
Open 10am – 8pm, daily except Tuesday.

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Thai restaurants have been found in and around Columbus for quite some time, but… ummm, how should we put this… unadulterated Thai has been thin on the ground with Bangkok as the only game in town. But with the recent opening of Erawan, and now Westgate Thai, the full flavors of Thailand are steadily working their way into the city’s consciousness.

Westgate Thai operates out of the Westgate Import Market, and occupies the kitchen and dining area that previously hosted the lovably improbable ‘Lindo Mexican/Cambodian restaurant’ (the signage for Lindo is still up, if you find it you’ve found Westgate). Accommodations are basic, with perhaps 16 seats in total, but service is consistently kind and thorough.

The entirety of the staff consists of a husband and wife duo, with the wife in the kitchen and the husband manning the front of house. Given the small size of the operation, this has been more than adequate, and wait times have been entirely acceptable.

Pad Phrik King

The food’s been great. From the yum woon sen to the pad phrik khing to the nice selection of curries, we haven’t found a bad pick in the bunch… and we’ve probably eaten more than half of the menu. They’ll adjust for your taste in spicy heat, which is to say that if you like it truly hot they’ll be happy to take that as a challenge.

If, among the fairly wide selection available, you’re looking for a place to start, I’d recommend the khao kaphrao khai dao (my preference is with pork) – a potent shot of Thai basil mingling with garlicky porky goodness, served with an egg that’s been fried until crispy around the edges (but still maintains a runny yolk) and rice. Try it as the Thais tend to do, by constructing bites with pork, egg, and rice all on one spoonful (yes, Thais mostly use a fork and spoon at the table).

Yum Woon Sen

Prices are notably wallet-friendly – apps start at $.50, and entrees are generally between $5.99 and $6.99. Entrees are discounted by $1.00 for lunch business. We had a group of 5 eat to contentment and beyond, and walked out with leftovers on a $32.00 bill. A few vegetarian and pescetarian options are available.

We’d be remiss in neglecting to mention that Westgate Import Market itself is a worthwhile destination. Southeast Asian staples and curiosities make for great browsing (we rarely leave without buying something), and the family that runs it is friendly and welcoming in the extreme. They offer a variety of prepared foods near the checkout – we’ve particularly enjoyed the mildly sweet sticky rice desserts packed in lengths of bamboo.

Tensuke Express

Cuisine: Japanese

1167 Old Henderson Rd.
Open: Mon-Fri – 11am-2:30pm, Sat – 11am-7:30pm, Sun – 12pm-7:30pm

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Tensuke Express is a cheap and cheerful lunch stop, and a great little example of Japanese fast food done well. The space, which can be entered either from the outside (seen above) or through the adjacent Tensuke Market, is done up in a vaguely aquatic theme, and features a circular bar seating area with a large, cylindrical fish tank in the middle. Feel free to take a seat there and observe the drama of a 4-foot long leopard-patterned eel slithering out tight laps while smaller fish dart out of its way.

But only after putting in your order, at which point you’ll pay and be given one of those light-up buzzer bricks to signal when you’ll need to return to pick up your meal. Children (myself among them) seem to get a kick out of the obscenely evocative racket the buzzers make against the Corian tabletops.

Meals are a bargain at $5 – $7.50, and the combinations in particular are a steal, all at less than $7.00. Sides run from $.50 – $4.00, with most under $3.00. Beverages are all under $1.00, with Japanese tea at only $.50.

So, like I said, cheap – as in, within a buck or so of your average fast food drive-thru order. But so much better. For example, take a look at this ‘udon + BBQ eel bowl’ combo ($6.75):

It’s a solid rendition of your standard udon bowl – thick, white flour noodles, light, savory broth, seaweed, scallions, a slice of fish cake, and bits of tempura – served with a generous side of BBQ eel. Once you get past the foreign-ness of some of the ingredients, it’s easy to think of this as pure comfort food. The eel, served atop rice, seemed surprisingly generous – it was probably the equivalent of 6 pieces of eel nigiri sushi, and every bit as satisfying.

Yaki udon ($5.75) was similarly enjoyed. Pan fried noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions and scallions in what Tensuke calls a ‘special sauce’ that was slightly sweet with sesame oil notes. Delicious!

The steamed gyoza ($2.95)  – meaty steamed dumplings with a side of salty soy/sesame oil sauce – were also appreciated and disappeared quickly.

The takoyaki (spherical pancake dumplings with octopus in the middle, $2.95) were good, but we can’t help but feel spoiled by the exceptional quality of Fresh Street’s version. They’re a fine side if you’re already at Tensuke, but if you’re specifically looking for them, I’d recommend that you check here first.

Beyond the dishes shown here, Tensuke also carries a variety of cold noodle dishes, rice curries, ramen bowls, tempura bowls, and Japanese chicken and pork plates. If our experiences (and discussions with others) are any indication, any of these will likely be more than satisfying and an make for an exceptional bargain.

Note: Tensuke Market also carries pre-made sushi, and has a sushi order counter in the small room between the restaurant and the main market area.

Erawan Thai

Cuisine: Thai

3859 Refugee Rd.
614.237.9310
Open: 7 days/wk, 11am – 9pm

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With a name like ‘Erawan’, it has to be good. Or so went our thinking – Erawan is the name of a minor shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, and to saddle a restaurant with what amounts to a near-unpronounceable name for english speakers that relates to an almost unknown location to anyone outside of Thailand is to show a genuine fidelity to origin. We couldn’t help but expect that that would manifest itself in the food.

This sense was confirmed when our thoroughly accommodating and knowledgeable server suggested that our meals would be best accompanied by sticky rice – a glutinous rice that is indeed sticky, with larger grains and a slightly nuttier flavor. Thais, particularly in the northern region of Isaan, use it much like Ethiopians use injera bread – in lieu of utensils, they grab a ball of it and use it to pinch morsels from dishes.  You don’t see this option very often around here.

The Isaan influence makes sense – Erawan is run by a Thai and a Lao, and Lao cooking is often very similar to Isaan style cuisine. And, as Laos is also influenced by neighboring Vietnam, you’ll also find pho here (which, if Yelp reviews are anything to go by, is supposed to be quite good).

But, we came for Thai, and Thai is what we had. Here’s how it went down:

First we tried the beef jerky appetizer. We’ve eaten this at Thai restaurants on numerous occasions previously, been a bit confused by the name (it doesn’t seem like jerky!), and finally on this visit got some answers from our server: it’s a marinated beef that has been left to rest and drain for around 3 hours and then deep-fried. So, not jerky as we know it, and certainly not health food, but absolutely delicious with a bit of sweetness, strong lemongrass notes, a slight crispness, and an overt beefy flavor. It was gone in no time flat.

Next came the papaya salad with salty crab. We asked for maximum spicy heat (which is the norm for this dish), and we got it. We also got crunchy shredded green papaya in a citrusy sauce with deep fish sauce flavor, studded with peanuts, garlic, bits of crab, and intimidatingly large flecks of chili. We enjoyed it very much, were impressed by the authenticity, and I’ll just end this sentence by observing that the fish sauce is both potent in aroma and flavor and therefore may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But make no mistake, you’re getting the real deal here.

The yum nuea arrived next. Essentially a cold beef salad with a sauce similar to the papaya salad, it demonstrated the wide range of flavors – sweet, salty, and sour – that the dish is known for. Unfortunately, the beef itself was surprisingly gristly. Perhaps a bit too authentic in that respect?

As we dug into the pad gar pow, the first person to speak simply said, “oh, yeah.” At Erawan the choice of protein is yours, and we ordered ours with ground pork, which was completed with plenty of sweet basil, chili, and garlic sauce. Again, the execution was dead-on, and thoroughly enjoyed.  This is one of the big flavored Thai dishes that is easily accessible even in its most unadulterated form.

Finally, we tried the pad see ew, which was… incongruously odd, both for better and worse. On the plus side, it had a deeply meaty flavor that, while distinctly unlike any other pad see ew we’ve tried, was nonetheless roundly enjoyed on its own merits. On the down side, the noodles were overcooked and yet lacked the dish’s signature ‘essence of pan’ (the sootiness that comes from residual bits of prior dishes).

But never mind that last dish. We’re excited about this place, and can’t wait to try more. As Erawan has just recently opened, the occasional misstep is understandable. Prices were very reasonable, with apps ranging from $3.25 – $7.00, and meals from $7.00 – $13.00 (with most under $10.00). Service was exceptional.

Fresh Street

Cuisine: Japanese

1030 N. High St. (in the parking lot just south of Bodega)
Open: weekdays, 11:30am – 5:30pm (closed Tues), weekends, 12:00pm – 6:00pm
Facebook Page

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Imagine you opened a Japanese crepe cart last summer. People came, ate, enjoyed your endlessly creative dishes, respected your commitment to quality ingredients, and raved to others. In no time you had amassed a cult following, and were regularly flattered by glowing mentions in both the social media sphere and traditional media. By the end of summer, you’ve got a spot on an NPR show about street food under your belt. You pulled big crowds almost everywhere you went, and kept ‘em coming even through the cold of November. Eventually, though, the permafreeze became just too much, and you closed up for the season.

Next spring, my street food rock star, as the city defrosts… what do you do?

If you’re Kenny Kim and Misako Ohba, owners and operators of the much lauded Foodie Cart, the answer is: octopus balls!

A bit of back story – in seeking out a sheltered location, they connected with Mikey of Mikey’s Late Night Slice. His pizza ‘shack’ (an outbuilding in a parking lot in the Short North with an adjacent dining room) operates in the evening, and lies dormant during the day. A perfect spot for Kenny & Misako to do their thing during Mikey’s off-hours. Win-win, right?

Except that, for a variety of different reasons, the crepe apparatus wouldn’t fit into the location. Having had their eye on a much smaller takoyaki griddle, the plan came together. Foodie Cart became Fresh Street, and crepes shifted over to takoyaki – a spherical pancake-meets-dumpling style Japanese snack food, traditionally made with a chunk of octopus flesh in the middle.

That word – tradition – was not exactly a central tenet of Foodie Cart’s repertoire, and same goes for this endeavor though perhaps to a lesser extent. While you can get straightforwardly traditional takoyaki here (and if my limited experience is any indication, they’re as good as anything on the streets of Japan…), part of the fun is (and always has been) seeing what these guys come up with next and enjoying how they cajole disparate influences into harmonious flavor pairings.

On our first visit, during their soft opening, they had 3 takoyaki options on the menu – octopus (true takoyaki), Japanese pork sausage, and okonomiyaki. Each allowed for a variety of different sauce & topping options – some gratis, others with a small upcharge.

I loved all 3 types. Each had a nice crispy exterior that tastes of toasted sesame oil and yields to a bread-like layer that transitions to a delicious gooey center. The octopus, unsurprisingly, has chunks of naturally chewy octopus in the middle, and the pork sausage version had pieces of pork sausage that taste surprisingly similar to a breakfast link (and none the worse for it). The okonomiyaki has shredded cabbage in it, which makes for a creative take on the traditional Japanese okonomiyaki pancake. In spite of being the vegetarian option it struck me as every bit the equal of the others. All orders are finished off with a takoyaki sauce, your choice of kewpie mayo or hot mustard, and bonito flakes.

Eight balls come with an order, is surprisingly filling, and is very reasonably priced at $5 per octet. The skill involved in making these is considerable, open for all to see, and makes for entertaining food theater.

The grand opening is today (4/14/11), check ‘em out!

Min Ga

Cuisine: Korean

800 Bethel Rd 43214
(614) 457-7331
Hours – 11.30-10pm daily (open until 11pm on Fri., Sat.)

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Min Ga is a restaurant that, for us, has always seemed to quietly fade into the background. It’s been around forever, and on previous visits always struck us as the epitome of ‘not bad’ with a dash of ‘hmmm… that seemed a bit expensive’. A nice enough option to have out there, I suppose, but not exactly the sort of place you jump out of bed eager to write about.

So, when we asked the owner of a Korean grocery store for restaurant recommendations and he suggested Min Ga, we were a bit surprised. Ultimately, though, his recounting of a change of management there was all we needed to give the place another shot.

These kimchi dumplings were a thing of beauty – pork, kimchi, and a surprising quantity of soup broth all tidily wrapped up in a wonton-like pouch. The flavors melded seamlessly, with kimchi flavor being obvious but not overly dominant (and contributing little in the way of spicy heat). These disappeared quickly. Word to the wise, though – eat these in one bite, or you’ll be wearing the broth.

I’ve long been a big fan of the Korean seafood pancake, and Min Ga’s version is as good as any I’ve had. Bits of almost every sea creature imaginable (including scallop, mussels, squid, octopus…), are mixed into this moist, dense, bread-like savory pancake. With a bit of the included soy-chili sauce (a little of this salty concoction goes a long way), these pizza wedge cut slices of seafoody goodness are pure contentment.

Our first main was the tofu pork bokum – big blocks of steamed tofu and a generous serving of pork & kimchi topped with sesame seeds and green onions. If the dumplings hinted at it, this dish confirmed – pork and kimchi are meant to be together. Moderate levels of spicy heat mingled with earthy, tangy, porkiness to form a dish that was enjoyed not only at the table but also as a leftover the next day. Tofu should feel lucky to have such a delicious saucy topping to carry it.

Kalbi, marinated and grilled beef short rib meat, is a another longtime favorite, and I’m now a big fan of Min Ga’s version. The meat is extremely juicy and has a big beef flavor, and the taste of the careful char is perfection. The subtly sweet marinade accompanies well and never overwhelms. Many is the time I’ve eaten at a steakhouse and thought I’d rather be having this dish, and Min Ga’s rendition will probably be what I’ll be longing for the next time.

Finally, we tried the soondae guk – Korean sausage soup, described on the menu as ‘soondae soup with vegetable and pig heart and pig intestine’. The (above) top photo shows the soup, and the bottom is the sausage that was served as a side to be put into the soup.  As my experience with Korean soups is limited, allow me to quote a relevant passage from Wikipedia:

“The third category of soups is gomguk or gomtang, and they are made from boiling beef bones or cartilage. Originating as a peasant dish, all parts of beef are used, including tail, leg and rib bones with or without meat attached; these are boiled in water to extract fat, marrow, and gelatin to create a rich soup. Some versions of this soup may also use the beef head and intestines. The only seasoning generally used in the soup is salt.”

Switch up beef with pork and you’ve got the idea. The soup itself was surprisingly bland (tasting of little more than a meat stock with a pinch of salt) and the sausage was packed with rice and had the iron-like flavor and deep red-purple color that I’d associate with a blood sausage. This dish appeared to be a special, and it fell flat for us not because of the off-cuts and other unusual ingredients – which largely just assumed the flavor of the broth – but because of the absence of any real depth of flavor. The wikipedia passage above suggests that this is at least somewhat intentional, and as we’ve encountered similar soups before at other Korean restaurants (and had similar reactions to them), I’m inclined to file it under ‘things I just don’t quite understand’.

As expected, a wide variety of banchan (small, complimentary cold sides) came with our meal. All were enjoyed…

…which also makes for a pretty good encapsulation of the whole experience. Entree prices seemed reasonable ($10 – $20, with most $15 or less), though app prices seemed incongruously inflated ($8 – $25 and every point in between, excluding the $5.00 edamame). Cost perhaps seems a bit more reasonable when the complimentary banchan is thrown into the equation.