Chow, Baby is the people’s food critic. Just think of me as your light in dim places, (or sometimes a canary for your culinary coal mine). This week I thought I’d dip into the ol’ mailbag and go where ye send me. As it turns out, Chow, Baby readers have excellent taste — in both restaurants and columnists.
Responding to a report I did a while ago on Korea House BBQ (“Sleuthing with Spice Girls,” Aug. 10, 2011), Susan in Fort Worth suggested that I try Sam Won Garden Korean Restaurant (5201 McCart St.), her nominee for the best Korean food in town. She was right on. Sorry, Korea House — you’re not even close.
The place is as authentic a Korean experience as one could hope for at a strip mall in southwest Fort Worth. The accompanying condiments, or banchan, alone are worth the visit. The marinated, red-flecked squares of radishes, crispy bean sprouts, sweet pickled cucumber slices, and the savory, spicy kimchi were all top-notch. On my server’s recommendation I went for the dolsot bibimbop. In addition to the great fun of just saying the name, the dish turned out to be unbelievably fresh-tasting, with veggies, red pepper paste, a fried egg, and rice served in a hot stone bowl that cooked the egg. I conquered my spice cowardice and soldiered through the heat and the taste of my own tears. I was impressed with the myriad nuances of the dish: Each bite added some new and surprising element. It was an impressive experience. I can’t believe this place has flown under my radar for so long.
A while back, I spent a week going to the Stockyards for lunch every day with mixed results (“Cruisin’ the Yards,” June 20). But Josh, a loyal Chow, Baby foot soldier, insists that I missed the best of the bunch by skipping Los Vaqueros (2629 N. Main St.). I was immediately struck by the size of the place. Most Northside eateries are a little on the cramped side, but you can really stretch out your legs there. It also has a nice vintage feel, with autographed pictures of bygone celebrities adorning the wall and an old gas station sign out in the parking lot.
There’s a lot to like about the food too. Since I came near closing time, I opted for the Los Vaqueros platter ($11.95), believing that a place wouldn’t name a dish after itself unless it was pretty good. And it was good — but not great. The dish is served on two plates, one with a standard-issue beef taco and the other with guacamole, a fried tortilla topped with queso, a ground beef enchilada, and a pork tamale topped with chile con carne. The enchilada was the highlight; the rest of the plate was competently bland. The red salsa is a must-try, however. It’s a little on the chunky side, with just enough heat to make you reach for your water, but not enough to cause you to tear up.
Finally, another regular e-mailer, Dan, could no longer contain his outrage at the fact that I hadn’t yet tried Thailicious (4601 W. Fwy, Ste. 206), even though it has been open only a month. After visiting for lunch, I understand why he was upset. The restaurant is located in the Chapel Hill center at I-30, and the vibe is relaxed upscale. Though the place is small, its chandeliers, comfortable booths, and efficient use of space make the place seem much larger — it’s like walking into Narnia.
Though it wasn’t the most adventurous choice, the pad Thai ($9.50) with pork, stir-fried noodles, fried tofu, eggs, bean sprouts, scallions, and crushed peanuts was a beautiful communion of sweet, spicy, grassy, and rich. The veggies were fresh and vibrant, and the pork was tender and moist. The entrée had a bit of a kick but is officially spice coward-approved. The Wild Bangkok dish ($9.50), on the other hand, provided a runny nose with every bite, although the heat didn’t mask the vibrant flavor of the bamboo shoots, baby corn, bell peppers, and basil. Both entrées were served with little half-moons of veggie pot stickers, slathered in a sweet sesame sauce.
Thanks to Susan, Josh, and Dan for the e-mails. I try to visit as many reader-suggested places as I can, so please keep the ideas coming.
And to those less helpful correspondents: Yes, old Chow, Baby ruled. No, I do not write my copy in crayon. And no, I’m not interested in holding onto large sums of money for some African prince.
Contact Chow, Baby at email@example.com.