Asian cuisine isn’t new to the DFW Metroplex. Think about Carrollton, where Omi Korean Grill & Bar serves heaping piles of grill-marked meat, cooked at your own table, as waiters rotate cutting meat with scissors and changing out the grill top so the meat doesn’t burn. Next door, you’ll find Cocohodo, a walnut pastry shop with dazzling ice cream and down the street, crepes await at Kimchi Stylish Korean Kitchen. At the heart of it all, an H Mart forms a cultural hub.
Or think about Richardson, where the hotspots aren’t consolidated into lively districts, but scattered, largely along Main Street, like Kirin Court, one of the best places for dim sum, and First Chinese Barbecue, a cash-only hole-in-the-wall. Families crowd the tables at Imperial Cuisine for bowls of long, hand-pulled noodles and dumplings (also sushi, apparently).
For a couple of years now, similar Asian-American areas have been blossoming in the cities north of George Bush Turnpike. Here, some of the best eateries quietly operate with a balance of Americanized dishes for the take-out crowd, and homestyle ones for a population that knows how it’s meant to taste. For example, at the cafeteria-style cash-only Taiwan Cafe on West 15th Street in Plano, lunch and the self-serve soup station won’t cost you more than $7 each. Others are new outposts of old metroplex favorites; Plano has its own First Chinese BBQ at Coit and West Parker Roads and just up the street, a copy of Carrollton’s Secret Recipe, known for its expansive menu of Singaporean and Malaysian food—scorching sambal, curry laksa and tender Hainanese chicken—has popped up. Further east, Dumpling House provides shareable plates of Northern-Chinese specialties: pork buns, shrimp and pumpkin dumplings, and green onion pancakes. We’ve always had these isolated standbys, but lately, they’ve developed into blocks anchored by grocery stores, with Asian-American cuisine of all kinds, banks, liquor stores, and pharmacies, turning once-fading strip malls into thriving cultural centers ripe for exploration.
In Plano, the block at Park and Coit Roads was recently named “Little Asia,” according to the signage. Hunan, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai Korean: all thrive here in endless fusions and combinations. It’s lined with hidden gems, like Sizzling Pot King, a Hunan restaurant where the star is dry pot, a family-style dish accompanied with rice. As one of the owners of Sizzling Pot King points out, one can drive for two hours in China, and the cuisine you’ll experience is totally different. Dry pot begins with proteins like short rib, bullfrog and beef tongue, tossed with vegetables and spices and cooked above a lit fire. Hunan cuisine is marked by liberal use of chili peppers, shallots and garlic, dry heat as intense as hot coals. It’s showcased nowhere better than their tapas, which lets guests sample smaller portions of dishes such as duck gizzard, pork ear, bean curd strip salad, duck neck and pork feet. Served cold, duck neck and pork feet—unsurprisingly, a challenge to eat with chopsticks—simmer with spice on the lips. Or try eggplant with 1000-year-old duck egg, that comes with a mortar and pestle, so diners can mash it themselves into a verdant almost-paste, enhanced with the yolky taste of duck egg. You’ll need a delightful cup of Sweet Orange Honey Pomelo Tea when the burn becomes too much.
Just a few doors down—past Legends Thai and Big Claw—Yatai Ramen Izakaya is dedicated Japanese soul food with a full sake bar. With smooth wood accents and low lighting, the atmosphere is well-suited to broths, cooked over a period of days. Broth is the heart and soul of this little cafe; take the buttery clam soup, still salty with the memory of seawater, chock-full of clams left in their shells and a pad of butter that melts into the bowl. One of their most well-loved dishes, Go! Vegan Ramen is sweet and warm with umami, an almost floral scent and garnished simply with lightly fried tofu, mushrooms and hint of thinly shaved green onion. Elegant and infinite in its varieties, ramen is a high caloric meal. What gumbo is to Louisiana, ramen is to Japanese cuisine. For something more interesting, Nabe oden is based on the same base of broth but with fishcakes and vegetables, brightening the senses with soy goodness, daikon and kombu.
After conversations with some of the restaurateurs I met while researching for this piece, I came away with the sense that many of them see an opportunity in today’s foodie culture, a chance to teach people about Asian cuisine beyond cashew chicken and teriyaki steak. Even a superficial dive into Plano’s Little Asia is a quick lesson in how many complex subtitles there are to explore.
For example, Morefan, a Xi’anese stall in a hard-to-find food court attached to the Jusgo supermarket at Legacy and Highway 75, was recently named one of the best 100 restaurants in Dallas by the Dallas Observer, for their fresh Biang Biang noodles and spicy lamb soup. Morefan had operated there, relatively unnoticed among the other stalls, until just three months ago when their dishes, seasoned with long, hot days over a boiling pot, were discovered by an observant food critic. Now, people are willing to drive up to Plano from Dallas to try the buttery two-foot-long tangle of noodles that fill up a bowl with carrots and peas, baby bok choy and succulent bites of pork belly so substantial that oily splatters of the brothy sauce are unavoidable.
The same food court has Sushi Spot, a new, unexpected find that sits center stage. The Chef’s Mistake is the perfect symbol of what Sushi Spot does: a poke bowl with a messy drape of marinated seaweed salad and a California roll as the base instead of plain rice. Ginger growls in the back of your throat at the end of each bite. The chef-owner admits no one expects quality sushi from a food court, when Dallas is heavily populated with sleek lounges with clubby atmospheres. So Sushi Spot sticks to Americanized versions: spider rolls with tempura shrimp, drizzled with spicy mayo; delicate Pink Lady topped with crab salad; a dragon roll with dreamy caviar and the barest trace of eel sauce. It’s equal to anything you’d get from a fine restaurant, without the need for a reservation. It’s sushi 101, covered in increasingly interesting ways. Sushi Spot is a balanced blend of American poke trends and Japanese sushi. It’s a play made to appeal specifically to Western diners without forsaking Japanese-American ones. While the menu forms a safety net, each customer is encouraged to go off menu and try something that maybe they haven’t tried before. It’s tradition, repackaged with new twists.
It’s not just Plano either. In Frisco, crushcraft’s new location features a full bar with nine house cocktails, Thai imported beer and a spice bar that allows guests to season their food to their own comfort level, from mild sriracha to sultry, boiling chili oils. The chef at crushcraft crafted the menu to showcase a new side of Thai cuisine; taking old dishes and presenting them in new ways to appeal to a health-conscious generation of foodies. Diners can choose between classic crowd-pleasers like Pad Thai and the lemongrass fragrance of Tom Kha soup, and Um Gai, chicken lettuce wraps with home-grown mint and a slap of lime, or the Skinny B*tch Salad.
The Skinny B*tch Salad is a lesson in this reimagining. Wok-seared cashews and sesame seeds crackle with salt. Crispy tofu and red quinoa give the salad energy and power on a solid kale base. It’s a salad that will please any health-conscious eater. But the thai peanut vinaigrette makes it special, a warm recipe that the owner learned from his own mother. Raised outside of Bangkok, he knows Thai food. crushcraft is his chance to give a younger generation a modern take on the cuisine.
In the future, Frisco will house the next go-to corner for local diners, Frisco Ranch, a plaza anchored by a new 99 Ranch Market. It opened this year, just in time for Chinese New Year, brimming with pastries, produce and prime meat from a gleaming Chinese deli. Patrons can browse Korean beauty products and, soon, stop in at a new Asian food hall, EatUp, populated by outposts of some of the most well-known local and international chains.
A build-your-own Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa, already tempts with strawberry puff shells and green tea cream fillings, whipped up every morning. Pho Corner and Agu Ramen Bistro will soon join the ranks. Blackball, a wildly popular Taiwanese dessert shop, will offer mountains of shaved ice and sweet-smelling almond and red bean soups, bursting with flavor, boba and graceful taro. That’s just what EatUp will have; who knows what restaurants will crop up around it. It’s an expression of community, another one-stop-shop corner that is just beginning. It’s another Little Asia, another district with authentic Japanese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese culture thriving side by side.
Many of the old standbys are still the best. But there are also hot new trends to explore, with entirely different things to try. Newer places like Bull Daddy Noodles, with their dangerously spicy Hell Noodles, and Sweet Hut’s coffee, custard buns and egg tarts, appeal to younger generations, the former with the so-far unbeatable Hell Noodles food challenge, and the latter with comfortable tables and a fast wifi connection. In Allen, Saltlight Station Coffee and Pho is an early, lone riser in the new rank of trendy places. A coffee and pho joint in a former gas station, Saltlight offers a compact menu built on slow-boiled bone broths, banh mi and bowls like the Texan, with prime rib, brisket and meatballs. Bold with modern twists, Saltlight Station is a hangout for young adults, bahn mi for a new generation—one that appreciates the drive-thru option.
This growing scene blends the old and the new: the standbys that have been standing by for 20 years and innovative twists that are expanding Western definitions of Asian cuisine. It’s still forming, being built with memory and creativity. Eat. Soak it in. Enjoy.