Welcome to Part Two of our series exploring some of Richmond’s best kept secrets — restaurants that serve up delicious food while somehow managing to fly under the radar. Next up: Eastern Asian cuisine.
Welcome to Part Two of our series exploring some of Richmond’s best kept secrets — restaurants that serve up delicious food while somehow managing to fly under the radar. Make sure you check out Part One where Matt Sadler explores some of Richmond’s breakfast spots.
Part Two: Eastern Asian cuisine
Eastern Asian cuisine can be an adventure, but it’s almost always quite enjoyable. The restaurants mentioned below show us that Eastern Asian cuisine can be more than deep fried items with gloppy sauces. It’s also in these places where we can find some hidden treasures. Our preconceived notions of how different types of restaurants should look may lead us to miss some of the Richmond’s wonderful culinary experiences.
Pho Tay Do
(6328 Rigsby Road)
Located in a strip of houses behind all the other restaurants on Horsepen, Pho Tay Do appears to be completely out of place. You park in the gravel front yard, open the front door, and walk into a magical wonderland of wooden cutouts of people smiling at you. The restaurant itself is quite small (it may only fit 30 people in three separate dining areas). However, it is the quaintness that separates this pho noodle house from the others in the area.
If you are unfamiliar with pho, the primary dish is a straight forward one. You’re served a warm beef broth with rice noodles, and the meat (beef, chicken, tripe, etc.) is usually still cooking in the hot broth as it arrives at your table. You are then given an assortment of spices, vegetables, and sauces to attune the soup to your own preference. Pho also has a few standard menu items such as bun (rice noodle salad) and broken rice, but as a general rule, I stick to the pho if it is in the name of the restaurant. I may add the crispy spring rolls, which are pretty tasty in their own right. After dining here, you’ll see why it has a strong cult following.
(6135 Midlothian Turnpike)
For years, I have been pining for a decent Korean restaurant in the Richmond area. Little did I know that one already existed, and it took a Korean friend taking me there for me to actually believe it. 88 Garden is the name, and I have yet to be disappointed in its cuisine. The restaurant itself is very unassuming from the outside, but once you walk in you’ll see a very pleasant eatery sporting its own garden right in the building. The highlight, of course, is the karaoke room at one end of the building that is designed for groups of five to 10 people. I have yet to rent one, but it is on my Richmond bucket list.
88 Garden, like most Korean restaurants, features grilled meats that are actually prepared at the table. The tables have gas grills built in and there are large ventilation hoods overhead. The grilled meats are fantastic. I am a huge fan of the golbi (beef short ribs), but any of the marinated meats are a treat. The whole experience can be quite confusing because along with the meat and the obligatory rice, the table is also decorated with about seven to nine small bowls of stuff, collectively called “panch’an.” The panch’an includes things like kimchi (pickled cabbage), bean sprouts, tofu, as well as other random spices and sauces. For the novice, it can be overwhelming, but for the adventurous eater it is heaven. First time diners should start off with their fried chicken wings, grilled meat, and rice.
The experience at 88 Garden is not necessarily the least expensive option, as Korean food is often slightly marked up as compared to other Asian cuisines. Nevertheless, your first experience will most likely get you hooked, because where else can you eat and drink to one’s heart’s desire, walk 30 feet and have a guilt-free private karaoke experience?
(12617 Jefferson Davis Highway)
Nestled in the corner of a shopping center, it’s hard to even identify the place much less have any desire to enter it. When you do walk in, you can still wonder why you would stay. This place qualifies as a dive. There are a handful of tables with modest decoration except for the large Japanese style veranda built into the counter. What you notice most is that there might not be any Japanese people actually working behind the counter or in the kitchen. Why is this place a hidden gem? Despite all preconceived notions, the food is really good and is available for a very reasonable price.
I must admit that I have always been a fan of the traditional Japanese Teppanyaki steakhouse with all the showiness and fanfare that accompanies the great food. At those places, you can pay anywhere between $18 to $25 per entree. It might be $10 to $15 at lunch, but in the end you are paying for the overall experience. However, at some point, the show gets old.
At Hibachi Ichiban, you get the same quality food, sans flaming onion volcano, at prices for as low as $6. Their Hibachi Chicken, which includes rice, noodles, vegetables, salad, and yummy sauces, is $6. If you are craving filet mignon or shrimp, that might cost you $8. The chicken tempura appetizer is under $4. Hibachi Ichiban is the reason why we look for dives — it’s out of the way, it’s cheap, and you still eat like a king.
I’ve only touched on three spots that fit into this Eastern Asian cuisine category here. There are so many more places that I have found and still there are others yet to be discovered. The Richmond area is large enough that there are places always hiding in the corners, especially when it comes to Eastern Asian cuisine. Keep hunting and you too can find hidden gems.