I’ve spent a lot of time recently exploring restaurants on Seminary Drive, and I haven’t exactly had to battle crowds. The food scene in Fort Worth offers few places less trendy, less likely to use adjectives like “chef driven,” “farm-to-table,” or “artisanal,” less focus-grouped, than Seminary east of Hemphill Street. I keep gravitating there, not due to my admitted hipster-ish snobbery concerning Insta-worthy spots but because it has become clear that some of the best cooking in town is happening in the small, family-run kitchens on that side of town. From the goat head-adorned Birrierias around La Gran Plaza mall to the saffron and crimson of Namaste Nepalese Restaurant, Seminary is a legitimate dining destination, and it deserves your attention.
On one of these outings, my companions and I spotted a sign advertising an “Asian Market.” I spend an inordinate amount of time driving to Haltom City, Grand Prairie, and Richardson for the ingredients I need for my home kitchen, so it was thrilling to find a place closer to home that had the potential of keeping me stocked in such necessities. Pa Pa Wady Asian Market (1161 E Seminary Dr, FW, 817-924-0860), just a few doors east of Namaste, did not disappoint on that front. The convenience store-sized Burmese grocery is packed with a deceivingly large range of goods from all over Asia (as well as some West African staples), and I explored the aisles eagerly, stocking up on noodles, dumplings, and things preserved in chile oil. Here was also a range of items I’ve never tried: fermented tea leaves, rock-hard cheese candy, cuttlefish crackers, and an overwhelming assortment of fresh buns and pastries that spoke to the Burmese provenance of the owners. And from the back, tucked behind a reach-in cooler filled with cans of milk tea and sweet basil sodas, we caught the unmistakable scent of stewing meats, curry, and lime leaf.
There, fronted by a scattering of small tables, is the reason that Pa Pa Wady is now the primary destination for my specialty shopping needs: a small open kitchen fronted by a glass case-topped steam table. Above the kitchen window, photographs of the kitchen’s specialties offer the neophyte a bewildering array of Burmese and Thai home-cooking classics. Run by Khan Htun (her husband Rick operates the grocery side), and open for breakfast and lunch only, Pa Pa Wady’s kitchen does a brisk business in unpretentious, intensely flavorful curries and noodle soups, providing the small Burmese community on the East Side with a taste of home.
Mohinga, the tamarind-and lemongrass-spiked fish stew that is considered Myanmar’s national dish, was topped with nutty crisp-fried lentils, cilantro, and lime. Beneath, a tangle of rice noodles carried flakes of mild white fish and funky dried shrimp, bringing a sweet balance to the acidity of the broth. Alongside, unctuous fatty hunks of pork belly curry nestled under a slick of mild chile oil, the perfect topping for plain white rice, especially when paired against Pa Pa Wady’s fiery, fermented shrimp-adorned papaya salad. Htun also offers a daily lunch plate consisting of curry, rice, a vegetarian side, and soup. At less than $6, it’s one of the best deals in town. I’d tell you more about it, but I don’t need this place getting trendy. It’s too good. –– Ian Connally
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