Author Archives: hungrywoolf

Jiu Thai

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Chinese
787 Bethel Rd, Columbus, OH 43214
614.732.5939
Hours: 11:30-9pm (Closed Tuesdays)

Lets not beat around the bush – we love Jiu Thai. We’ve been going there for years, and it’s absolutely criminal that we haven’t written about them until now. Our list of favorites dishes is long, and yesterday we found yet another one.

Specifically, the stir fried lamb ribs. The name is a bit deceiving, since it’s clearly a riff on the cumin lamb found in most restaurants with a Sichuan menu, but for us it’s now the benchmark. The chunks of lamb are thick enough to showcase the flavor and quality of the meat, and their relatively dry stir fry char is spot on. They, along with green peppers and onions, are covered in a Sichuan spice mix that was both instantly recognizable and clearly preferable to previous renditions. With a little spicy heat and a little Sichuan peppercorn zing, it made everything on the plate sing in a way that was almost startling. In a very good way.

We’re not going to get into the details of the rest of the dishes, since it isn’t really the essence of this exercise. Just understand that thick, rustic hand made noodles and dumplings are a mainstay, and that we enthusiastically vouch for the following:

Biang biang noodles (our most frequently ordered dish)

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Pork with picked cabbage or Lamb & onion dumplings

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Xi’an steamed cold noodles

jiu thai

Big Guy Noodles (and the other noodle soups with hand made noodles)

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Cucumber Salad

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Delicious pork sandwich

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The skewers are fun too.

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Menu is online via postmates. They do a lot of delivery via Ricepo and Amazon Restaurants too.

PS: Here’s the skilled hands in the kitchen at Jiu Thai making handmade noodles.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Does Columbus have any ‘real’ Chinese food?

This question finds its way to us with increasing frequency, both online and in person, from dismissive newcomers to Central Ohio as well as jaded locals. We have plenty to say about it, but first, lets talk about this idea of what’s ‘real’. 

‘Real’, in this context, is almost always used as a synonym for ‘authentic’. To the extent that anyone has the authority to categorize any Chinese food as authentic, it certainly isn’t us. 

What we can do, though – with a little help from our friends – is to distinguish the restaurants that are cooking menu items for the Chinese palate from those that are not. In other words, while we’re not fools enough to believe that we can measure any given restaurant’s success in maintaining absolute fidelity to Chinese culinary tradition, we do believe that our merry band of grazers can discern the intent to appeal to a Chinese audience. And, we can share our thoughts on what we enjoy.

OK, so back to the original question. We have to admit that it evokes a mild sense of indignation in us, as we’ve been enjoying the fruits of many of the city’s delicious Chinese kitchens for years – often with Chinese dining companions – and have felt some measure of pride in the range of options available to a city of our size. I mean, ‘Are there any?’ Of course! How many? 

Time to make a list. 

This was a process full of surprises. Once we made our initial list, and then continued searching, we were astounded by how much it grew. There’s an awful lot out there, and far more than we’ve had the opportunity to experience.

Sounds like a new food adventure to us! Over the next year, we’re going to visit/revisit each one of the restaurants on the list (linked below), and we’re going to try them with as many people as is practically possible so we can try as broad of a range of dishes as possible. We’ll post a brief accounting of each here, and hopefully put that pesky question to rest once and for all. 

The List:

Well, almost there. Please bear in mind that while we’re trying to be complete, we may not have caught everything. If we missed something let us know! Also, please understand that some of these restaurants will only have Chinese-American offerings shown on their website. You have to explore their broader menu in person to get the full story – which is exactly what we intend to do.

After the full list (which also includes markets and bakeries), we’ve taken our first stab at categorizing restaurants by their specialties. This will be refined as our adventure progresses, but is intended to illustrate the breadth of regional and culinary specialization found among the city’s Chinese offerings.

Columbus Chinese Food Guide 

Raspados y Nieves La Laguna

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Cuisine: Mexican Desserts and snacks
5455 Norton Center
Columbus, 43228
614.638.1898
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Long term readers of alt.eats.columbus know that we have a soft spot for eateries hidden in the back of ethnic markets. Recently we’ve found something even more curious – a Mexican dessert cafe that’s hidden behind a laundromat. There’s something a little surreal about walking through a laundromat, with the characteristic smell of detergent and dryers, and then suddenly finding yourself in a spacious restaurant offering milkshakes, smoothies, fruit cups and ice cream.

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Raspados are the biggest seller at Laguna. For the uninitiated, these are shaved ice cups that are flavored with mostly homemade syrups, condensed milk and other toppings. At Laguna they are adorned by an umbrella. For their Mexican customers who love a combination of sweet, icy and spicy the most popular is the Diablito which is topped with homemade tamarind syrup, lime juice, chamoy sauce, spicy powder, hot tamarind candy and chopped mango. Chamoy is made from pickled fruit and is salty, sweet, spicy and sour. The ice is shaved to order and it’s fun to watch them assemble the raspados. We enjoyed the nuez (pecan).
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Other novelties include lagunadas which are comprised of diced fruit, sorbet, chamoy sauce, spicy powder and hot tamarind candy. Esquimos or ‘skimos’ are a traditional type of Mexican milkshake that is made with milk, sweetened condensed milk and a flavor and are foamed in a special machine to make the drink light and airy. American style milkshakes are also available.
Laguna served over a dozen flavors of homemade ice cream with flavors ranging from dragon fruit to burnt milk. Mango is pictured below. The paletas (Mexican popsicles) aren’t made in house but they have plans to make their own as the business grows. Snacks, fruit juices and a wide variety of fruit cups are also available. There’s a lot of variety to explore.
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Laguna is a great summer stop if you’re out on the west side looking for something sweet, cool and a little different. Spice is optional. We’d also recommend a stop at Playa Larga’s taco truck, a little further south on Norton Road for some shrimp empanadas and ceviche.

Estilo Brazil

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Cuisine: Brazilian
5818 Columbus Square, Columbus, OH 43231
(614) 269-8990
Open Monday-Saturday
The last time we visited Estilo Brazil at it’s old location on Cleveland Ave., we were charmed by the flavors of the cuisine and the tropical vibe of their small side patio. We also could clearly see that the tiny back-of-the-market space just wasn’t up to the task of producing much food or accommodating many guests… especially in Central Ohio’s temepramental climate.

With the opening of their new, larger Columbus Square location, the seating’s better, the menu’s expanded, and the concept is clearer – alongside the bright, clean market sits a Brazilian PF, or ‘prato feito’, a popular traditional style of Brazilian dining.

PF is described as the working man’s meal, and as such we’d say that the working man has it pretty well off. The fundamentals are straightforward – beans, rice, a starch or two (usually fries), salad (potato or lettuce), and a rotating roster of proteins. For us, the proteins are what makes the concept shine.

Currently, two options are consistent – the linguica calabrese and picanha. The linguica, a spiced pork sausage reminiscent of a Filipino longaniza sans sweetness, makes for a pleasant and generously portioned accompaniment to the beans and rice, but the picanha, strips of beef sirloin rump cap, steals the show. Picanha is sliced so that each strip features a small knob of gristle-free fat at one end, and cut against the grain so that a reasonable degree of tenderness compliments the deeply beefy flavor of the cut. First timers can opt for half longaniza and half picanha, which makes for a good overview.

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A rotating third meat option is also available, and as of both visits it was described as a Brazilian version of a chicken stroganoff. Tempting though it was, the picanha and linguica won out for us both times.

Ordering is simple as the entire operation is structured as a cafeteria line. Once you’re at the beginning, lids come off of all of the food and it’s as easy as pointing to what you want. With small quantities of food being staged, the kitchen seemed busy with preparing refills for the steam table and as such freshness was consistently high.

One of the consistent sides is Paçoca de pilão, dried beef that is mixed with toasted cassava flour and ground until very fine.

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All of the dishes we tried were almost entirely devoid of spicy heat, but the remedy awaits, should you desire it, in the form of a variety of bottles of hot sauces on the counter. Beverages are limited to cashew fruit and passion fruit juice, though a wide selection of bottled and canned drinks are available in the market.

Portions are generous, and a run through the line will set you back $11, which strikes us as a bargain. In the context of Columbus Square offerings, Estilo Brazil may not feature the most exotic or adventurous range of flavors, but it’ll undoubtedly provide a damned good square meal at a reasonable price.

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Hamdi Grill

somali restaurant columbus

Cuisine: Somali
1784 Huy Rd, Columbus, OH 43224
614.592.9089

Hamdi Grill is a new Somali restaurant that opened this week. It is located just south of the Northern Lights shopping center on Cleveland Avenue.

The interior is surprisingly polished and a lot of money has been invested in the build out.

The menu is fairly large and includes drinks (not pictured).

hamdi grill menu

Of the dishes that we sampled (beef kebab, roasted goat, salmon and chicken stew) we’d probably give the nod to the chicken stew (aka suqaar) and would recommend the rice. We found all of the dishes to be solid but you can find better versions at other Somali restaurants around town. However, Hamdi Grill is in the first week and still getting up and running. They are waiting for their coffee machine to be installed and did not have all of the dishes listed on the menu.

As is typical of Somali restaurants the portions are large. Pictured below Somali chicken stew (suqaar) with chapati.

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Salmon with pasta

somali restaurants in ohio

Asia Market

asian markets columbus ohio

3456 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, OH 43224
(614) 261-6118
Open daily 9.30am-7.30pm (10am-6pm on Sundays)

We’re a bit remiss in not having covered Asia Market before… they’ve been open since 1981. It’s a large, high ceilinged market featuring an eclectic array of goods that cater not just to Asian tastes but also offers plenty of Latino and African products. Curiously, they also have the largest selection of ‘vegetarian meats’ that we’ve ever seen including vegetarian pork belly. The photo below does not show the whole case.

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Even beyond that, culinary curiosities abound. The frozen fish section is huge and varied, black skinned chicken can be found, as can octopi of all sizes. It’s a great browse, and a clean and well-stocked market.

To the right side of the store (relative to the entrance),  sits a partioned area that acts as a small restaurant. There are seven tables, a TV and, notably, a high chair. The menu is very small and offers two appetizers (egg rolls and spring rolls), three noodle soups, bun cha gio thit nuong, banh cuon, and Vietnamese coffee.

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The bun cha gio thit nuong was solid but not exceptional. It’s comprised of cold vermicelli noodles topped with salad, grilled pork, and egg rolls, and comes with the usual fish sauce based dressing to pour on top.

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The bun bo hue was a bit disappointing. The broth was watery and heavy on the fish sauce but insufficiently meaty and spicy. Usually this dish is fragrant with lemongrass but that seemed to be lacking too. The beef was a bit of a lottery, a couple of pieces were tender and flavorful but several were inedibly chewy. There was some tendon and some slices of pork loaf but no pork blood.

vietnamese spicy beef soup

The bun rieu – a vermicelli soup dish usually made with a crab and tomato based broth – was the highlight of the meal and the dish that we would go back for.  It contained fish cake, shrimp (or crab?) paste, fresh shrimp and pork loaf, and had a pleasing dose of funk from the fish sauce and seafood.

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Vietnamese coffee is the only beverage on offer at the restaurant. It’s made to order and comes either black or with sweetened condensed milk and can be consumed hot or over ice. Other (canned or bottled) drinks can be purchased from the store and consumed in the restaurant.

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We probably wouldn’t recommend Asia Market as a destination for Vietnamese dining, but if you have some shopping to do and want to grab a bite while you are there then it’s good to know about. Our advice would be to order your food first, then shop and come back to the restaurant – service was a little slow.

Addis Restaurant

IMG_3447Addis Restaurant
Cuisine: Ethiopian
3750 Cleveland Ave
614.269.8680
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Open lunch and dinner every day. Until 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on Friday and Saturday.

With the closing of Blue Nile in the north campus area, Ethiopian food had become an east side affair. And, while we like Ethiopian food, we haven’t craved it enough to schlepp out to Hamilton Rd. with any regularity.

The owner Niman knew that a larger proportion of the Ethiopian and Eritrean population were on the North side, unserved by a restaurant offering their national cuisine, and with the opening of his Cleveland Avenue restaurant, Addis, he has made the cuisine far more geographically accessible for them, and for us.

The dining room is clean and pleasant, in an orderly no-frills kind of way, and service is unwaveringly pleasant and eager to answer questions. The menu is tightly focused, with less than 10 dishes, though 10 more are understood to be on their way in the next couple of weeks.

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While we’re eager to see what the menu expansion may bring, we were more than happy with what exists. We tried the mahbarawi platter with tibs, and added the zillzill tibs, a beef short rib dish. The mahbarawi platter also included 4 vegetable dishes and salad. All of the dishes are served together on a larger sharing platter with some hot sauce.

ethiopian food in Columbus

The tibs, a beef stew was, to us, the best rendition we’ve tried so far – spicy, complex, and delicious. The platter can also be ordered with chicken.

The zillzill tibs, on the other hand, was entirely new to us, and amounted to a tasty curiosity. It consisted of chunks of beef short rib meat, and the menu listed it as seasoned with garlic, black pepper, onion, and green chili. True though this may be, the flavor struck us as faintly teriyaki-esque… which was not bad, by any means, but more than a bit surprising.

Accompaniments included lentils, cabbage, and spinach, and all were up to snuff. The injera bread as good as any we’ve had, and was conspicuously fresh. Portions, as always with Ethiopian food are plentiful. Dishes are cooked to order and Niman was keen to point out that dishes like kitfo can be cooked to your taste – anywhere from rare to well done. We were also asked what level of spice we wanted. As is traditional with Ethiopian food be prepared to eat with your hands.

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We also enjoyed Ethiopian tea and coffee and Niman told us that on Friday they prepare traditionally prepared Ethiopian coffee and offer samples to customers.