Originally published under the title “The Hunger Games”
Cheesesteaks, dumplings, samosas, strudel, noodles and even more noodles, and they’re all new in town. Devour the 10 most exciting new Collin County restaurants of 2019.
The Chinese Neighbor
It’s always nice to have a dose of something truly different in the metroplex, and right now, the most interesting form of American-Chinese fusion comes from a burgeoning shopping district in Prosper. The Chinese Neighbor, from Executive Chef Bob Tam, offers actual American-Chinese fusion, not just Americanized Chinese food, and the results are a quippy, casual menu with riffs of fish and chips, mac ‘n’ cheese and Caesar salad.
Take the house-made “Flamin Hot” Wontons, served in resplendent Sichuan sauce, and liberally topped with scallions and crushed XXTRA Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, just enough to get a hint of that distinct Hot Cheeto flavor. Or there’s Cheeseburger Eggrolls: seared ground chuck, rolled in a sesame-crusted egg roll wrapper with American cheese, their signature Chinese 1000 island and hot mustard mayo. (Chinese 1000 Island has Chinese pickle relish instead of the classic sweet relish).
Because this is Texas, some kind of barbecue mash-up is required. In this case, it’s Smoked Brisket Fried Rice, a Tex-Mex version of fried rice with small slices of smoked beef, served with Stubb’s barbecue sauce, cheese sauce and a dollop of wasabi coleslaw.
The dish getting the most buzz by far has to be the Dragon Dumpling Burger. This blend of two popular comfort foods represents everything The Chinese Neighbor is about. The patty is formed from the same marinated ground beef and pork that fill in the chili wontons. It’s topped with melting Swiss and American cheeses, caramelized onions and kewpie mayo. The bun is a compact, toasted English muffin, chosen to simulate the thin, doughy give of a dumpling and even the delicate size. Dumpling sauce comes on the side for dunking and overall, a very evenly balanced dish, bursting with umami and cheese. Not only is The Chinese Neighbor some of the newest fast-casual in the area, but it’s also some of the most individual.
750 Richland Blvd., Prosper | 972.433.1088 | chinese-neighbor.com
A Bite of Lao and Thai
In a quiet corner of Allen, with little fanfare, a family-owned eatery started serving Lao and Thai food this year. Laos and Thailand are linked at the elbows by the Mekong River and while the two cuisines share some similarities, the specific hallmarks of Lao cuisine—simplicity, little reliance on the sweet heavy Thai sauces—are still fairly new in the area.
Sweet and aromatic, Texas-sized papaya platter starts with a generous helping of shredded green papayas tossed in sweet dressing and tossed with chilis, tomatoes, garlic, and crab. A variety of meats ring around it, plucked from the appetizer menu: house chicken wings, deep-fried pork belly, Moo Yor (sausage) boiled egg, vermicelli noodles, cabbage, and crispy pork rinds. An addictive plate of garlicky riblets is best shared among friends. These nubby spare rib bits have been deep-fried with low burning spices until crispy and utterly satisfying to tear off the bone.
Entrees range beyond pad thai and curries, to bowls of Kuay Jab, rolled noodles drowning in a savory brown broth. The flavor wavers between meaty and sweet, topped with a protein bomb of crispy pork belly, egg, fried tofu, and tender pork. For a truly Lao experience, Nam Khao pairs a traditional dish, sour pork sausage, with crispy rice, red onions, scallions, and cilantro topped with toasted peanuts, served with peppers, lime, and lettuce. While basil stir fry isn’t new to the area, not many restaurants serve it with the flair it receives here: finely minced chicken and basil crowned with one of the world’s most perfect fried eggs.
A Bite of Lao and Thai offers deceptively good meals that blend these two Southeast cuisines, for a menu that is herbaceous, full of fish and vegetables, seasoned with mint and cilantro, and garlic and piled with noodles both drunken and dry.
945 W. Stacy Rd. Ste. 140, Allen | 972.649.4766 | bitelaothai.com
The Truck Yard
The Truck Yard at The Colony is more of an experience than a restaurant, per se, described as a beer garden/adult playground. It’s got a Cadillac Ranch vibe, a toilet seat museum (stay with me) and a rotating schedule of food trucks, local beers, and cheesesteaks. Dogs and friends are encouraged.
Primely located near the picnic tables, Steak Me Home Tonight is The Truck Yard’s in-house cheesesteak stand, where entire rib roasts are sliced fresh, marbled fat and lean meat, griddled, and chopped with peppers and onion—mushrooms and jalapeños too, if you want—overfilling a hoagie roll. Smart people drizzle it in Cheez Whizz and pair it with Trash Can Punch, a mixture of New Amsterdam vodka and fruit juice. Aside from cheesesteaks, The Truck Yard brings in a rotating selection of food trucks, from Ragin Casian, a Cajun/Asian fusion with ramen gumbo, to Easy Slider, home of the Sweet Lowdown, Angus beef with goat cheese and strawberry jam.
It’s also one of the best places to find the Kitty Bunny Bakery food truck, an Allen-based newcomer serving Cabernet cupcakes, Belgian chocolate cake with whipped Cabernet filling, Italian Stallion ones, rosemary thyme cake with limoncello frosting, and Honey Sesame ones, black sesame seed cake with sea salt and honey frosting.
The Truck Yard is also the new home of Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum, honoring the late, great Barney Smith, who created over 1400 pieces of art out of toilet seats. For decades, he showed them by appointment in his garage in San Antonio. The Truck Yard is the first time they’ve ever had a new home of their own. He cut the ribbon on the new museum himself, just weeks before he passed away.
5959 Grove Ln., The Colony | 469.401.6764 | truckyardthecolony.com
Viridescent Kitchen, a woman-owned vegan grocery store, plant-based incubator, brick and mortar, and rotating restaurant, might be the greenest place in the area. The concept is a collaboration between Gabrielle Reyes, a vegan online cooking show host, and Laura Thornthwaite, the owner of a nut butter company, The Simple Sprout. While the grocery store and coffee shop, with artisanal coffee, are constants, Viridescent Kitchen hosts rotating restaurant concepts like Sierra Valley Food, vegan Mexican street tacos, Plant Set Meals, who are known for their organic quiches, and Ish Vegan café, vegan Cajun and soul food.
One of the most regular concepts is Noble Burgers + Bowls, some of the most indulgent bad-for-you good-for-you cuisine around, like Monster Nachos piled with grilled corn, black beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. One of the most popular options is the Figgy Burger, which starts with fig jam, cream cheese, curry aioli, tomatoes and arugula, a curious combination that works like a charm. Or there’s the Tex Mex, a plant-based juggernaut piled high with grilled onions, pepper jack “cheese,” green chili aioli and guacamole. Any burger comes with either a portobello mushroom patty or Beyond meat.
On the other side of the menu, there are hearty lunches like the Peace Bowl, quinoa and rice, layered with Kofta Peace balls—vegetable dumplings—swamped in a rich coconut curry sauce, tahini, a hint of mango chutney and cilantro lime sauce.
Artemis and Apollo, a Dallas bakery specializing in plant-based dessert, stocks the deli display with delicacies like personal key lime cheesecake, sprinkled with coconut shavings, hiding chocolate chips at the very bottom. Or, lemon ricotta cookies, even occasionally kolaches. It’s the most guilt-free place to eat in the area. Plus, it’s always fun to support women-owned businesses.
5760 TX-121 #140, Plano | 214.297.2334 | viridescentkitchen.com
The Aussie Grind
With fancy shakes, flat whites and fairy floss, The Aussie Grind is the kind of little bistro that exists in a state of perpetual brunch. The restaurant’s owners, Lui and Angie, are native Aussies and a husband-and-wife team who met through food; Angie worked for his family in the food service business and The Aussie Grind is their breakfast and coffee café, warm with sunlight, wood accents and lots of koalas.
The crowds show up on the weekends: families with kids, friends meeting for coffee, women gathering for monthly book clubs over mochas and glasses of fresh-squeezed juices, named for Australian cities and served with edible flowers floating atop the ice.
Their brunch service is as casual as eating at a friend’s house, a base of bacon and eggs, updated with fresh quirks and little nods to Lui and Angie’s Australian roots. Breakfast gnocchi that smells of sage melts in your mouth, served under poached eggs with sauteed bacon, Spanish onion and a heaping of spinach. For a lighter option, the salmon stack, piled onto sourdough, pairs with blistered cherry tomatoes, with a welcome touch of capers and cream cheese. One of the most popular dishes seems to be the utterly cheerful Hot Cakes—because what is brunch without them? Big as saucers, they zoom around the café floor in droves, crowned with ice cream and cotton candy, particularly popular with kids. If breakfast isn’t your thing, there’s always a plate of piping hot fish and chips made with Atlantic cod, or a generous Angus beef Steak Sanga on ciabatta with a pile of rosemary fries.
They get their coffee from Full City Rooster, single-origin roasters who made a name for themselves in the Cedars impeccable attention to detail and up-close-and-personal sourcing and roasting processes.
Whatever you do, polish off a flat white and a Vanilla Slice, an Aussie original, puff pastry cradling custard sandwiches, finished with electric berry coulis and icing sugar.
3930 Preston Rd. #120, Frisco | 469.428.0966 | theaussiegrind.com
Ebesu Robata and Sushi
From a small and polished storefront in downtown Plano, Ebesu offers traditional binchotan-grilled robata, sushi, and cocktails with modern flushes and lyrical twists. It’s one of the most vibrant and welcome additions to downtown since McCall Plaza, across the street. The appetizer menu offers a diverse selection. Hotate is a minimal platter of seared scallops topped with tomato basil sauce, slivers of lemon and microgreens, tender and clean; Chicken Kari-Kari Age is fried until crisp and drizzled in yuzu aioli; cold soba noodles are served with yuzu froth and wasabi, topped with a lacy crisp.
A chef’s sushi or sashimi selection comes with a California roll, but the true focus is on the simple purity of fish with Koshihikari rice, the gold standard short-grain rice, and little else. The chef selection offers one bite each of eel, Japanese snapper, salmon, yellowtail, white fish, tuna and shrimp. The generous hunk of eel, bound with seaweed, is a clear favorite, rich with flavor, though Japanese snapper topped with the barest hint of Cerrano is a close, graceful second.
Ebesu gets its name from Ebisu, the Japanese god of good fortune and fishermen, so you can expect an excellent selection of seafood, but the true standouts on the menu come from land. Our waitress lets on that the most popular side of the menu isn’t sushi. Though that’s certainly many diners’ initial draw, Japanese patrons come for robata. Robata is a dramatic cooking method, meat, and vegetables grilled over hot charcoal, and one that Ebesu utilizes with artistry. Kurobuta pork jowl, pig cheek, is grilled, sliced, and fanned out on a block of salt that is run through with pink veins like polished marble. A tiny platter of yuzu salt and sweet, yet tart, ume paste comes on the side. Each piece is meant to be dragged lightly over the salt block, then through the condiments for the lightest accents of seasoning on tender meat.
For dessert, Matcha Tiramisu resembles a mossy flower pot, fragrant and lovely. It’s easy to split, but hard to share.
1007 E. 15th St., Plano | 972.212.4564 | ebesu-usa.com
East Plano’s most interesting new restaurant has a menu of over 200 items, in addition to hot pot. Sichuan cuisine primarily recognized for its unique mastery of the anesthetic nature of red Sichuan peppercorns, and weaponized utility of chile peppers. “Sichuan” brings to mind the oily heat of chili wontons and sauce-tossed noodles on one hand, hot pots of bubbling broths for boiling meat and vegetables at the table on another, and yet also the gentle and herbaceous flavors in dishes such as basil eggplant, pickled vegetables, mustard sauces, and tea-smoked duck. It’s variable and interesting, full of secrets and backways. Sichuan Folk does all of it well.
Dan Dan Noodles, for example. Fresh egg noodles make a nest in a shallow pool of savory, heated broth, minced pork piled on top. Whirled together around chopsticks, they catch hold of the sauce’s burnished color, and burn on the lips, before leaving behind, as an afterthought, a surprising hint of nuttiness. They burn on the lips. Every Sichuan restaurant in the world likely serves Dan Dan Noodles, but Sichuan Folk’s has a smooth, homemade flavor stands out. Few things in the world are as tongue-numbing as doughy wontons, drenched in chili oil and full of marinated pork, plump dumplings in a crimson sauce accented with soy sauce, black vinegar, and brown sugar. Basil eggplant is delightfully crisp, delicate as spring after the low-burning, tear-stirring heat.
Sichuan Folk’s menu food becomes more intriguing and less Americanized from there. Spicy fish in boiled oil leaves a lingering tingle of heat and lemon. Hot pot is more than enough food for a whole family, and there’s also dry-fried frog, a savory stirfry full of spices and aromatics. Chicken feet with pickled peppers encapsulates the lighter side of Sichuan cuisine, preserved and enriched with star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and ginger.
One could eat there 200 times, and still be trying something new.
1201 E. Parker Rd., Plano | 972.516.8627
On a cold winter day in Texas—or more accurately a mildly chilly one—there’s nothing quite as wholesome as thick Tonkotsu broth simmering with umami flavor. When it comes to Hakata-style ramen, there’s a bold new player in town, coming to us from San Francisco: Marufuku Ramen. Marufuku Ramen had a cult following even before it opened earlier this year in Frisco’s burgeoning Asian district. By the time the doors unlocked, we were ready with chopsticks. While there are plenty of places to find soul-warming ramen in the area, Marufuku still manages to make every bowl feel new.
Start with a shareable plate of Buta Kakuni, soft chunks of braised pork belly, layered with soy sauce, mirin, ginger and a hint of sweetness, or, Marufuku Bites, marshmallow-light bao buns stuffed with tender chashu pork and chopped green onion. Then move on to the main course.
Hakata style ramen is uniquely rich and cloudy, infused with aromatics such as garlic, ginger, leeks, and mushrooms. Marufuku Ramen leaves their broth to simmer for over 20 hours before pairing it with noodles so thin that they must be eaten with haste—in under five minutes, if possible—before the texture becomes mushy. There’s no fear of running out of noodles before you run out of broth; just order Kae-Dama and they’ll refurnish your remaining broth with hot, freshly boiled noodles served in your remaining soup.
A single, massive bowl is full of chashu pork—simmered pork belly—and garnished with a seasoned soft boiled egg, then sprinkled with green onions, wood ear mushrooms that add a satisfying crunch, and bean sprouts. If that’s not quite enough, finish off with a small rice bowl with spicy seasoned cod roe or Japanese-style fried chicken.
Bring a group, and don’t forget to order head-spinning Sequoia Genshu for the table.
9292 Warren Pkwy. Ste. 370, Frisco | 469.388.1215 | marufukuramen.com